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Posted 26 Mar 2001   For week ended March 16, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 15Mar01

By Kent Larsen

Hot Hybrid Car Leads to Donny's Deception

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- Hybrid cars are hot, and LDS pop star Donny Osmond had to have one. In fact, he wanted one so bad, he admits, that he hoodwinked the dealer, fellow LDS Church member Larry Miller (yes, the owner of the Utah Jazz).

Donny says that he told Miller he had to have one of the hard-to-come-by Toyota Priuses for his son. "I said, 'You've got to get me one. My son is coming back from England in August, where he's been serving a mission for the Mormon Church, and it would be nice to have it for him for college.' That was my excuse. I really wanted it for me." But, as things sometimes turn out, Donny's "white lie" turned into truth and Don Jr. uses the car all the time. "It doesn't have the pickup a 22-year-old kid would like. But he loves the fact he doesn't have to fill the tank very often, and pays about $10 when he does," says Donny.

How popular are the cars? Recently, while driving his Prius, Donny found he wasn't the center of attention anymore, "I drove around town and these guys in a pickup were turning in front of me. They were looking and pointing as if they knew me, and I thought, 'OK!' As they passed by, they said, 'Wow, it's the new Prius.'"

Currently two different hybrid cars are available in the U.S., the Prius and the Honda Insight, and US car makers are promising to have hybrid cars on the market starting in 2003. The cars work by using both conventional gasoline fuel and electric batteries. Under the gasoline power, the car charges its electric batteries as it drives. The batteries are then used to power the car a portion of the time. The system improves fuel efficiency -- to as much as 70 miles per gallon -- while reducing tailpipe emissions because not as much fuel is consumed.

In effect, the user doesn't have to act any differently; he simply fills the car with gas normally. But the car does act in a way that will surprise many. Austin, Texas mayor Kirk Watson, who owns an Insight, notes, "When you come to a stop, the engine stops -- which freaks out valet parkers."

The cars have become popular among the rich and famous as well as among those sensitive to environmental issues, leading demand for the cars to exceed supply. Currently Toyota builds 12,000 Priuses each year and Honda builds 5,000 Insights. But in spite of the car's popularity, neither company is likely to ramp up the supply much because the cars cost more to build than their sales price. Honda and Toyota are willing to subsidize the cars now to get consumers used to them and to learn how to bring production costs down.

The hybrid cars are even popular among some political conservatives, in spite of their label as environmentally friendly. Another LDS Church member, Utah Senator Robert Bennett, got an Insight last July because he was "intrigued with the technological breakthrough this represents," he says. But he also admits that the car, which is underpowered compared to traditional gas-powered cars, has the potential to get him into trouble, "I've admitted to having it up to 85 mph -- but in a 75 zone, so I wasn't that far over."


High-profile drivers crave hybrids Gas-sipping 'green' cars are envy of pop stars to politicos
USA Today pg1B 14Mar01 P2


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