Hollywood Loves Hybrid Cars
LOS ANGELES - At a glittering Hollywood fundraiser for a noble cause Tom Hanks hosted, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke, former president Bill Clinton pumped flesh. But the real news was in the parking lot. Celebrity after celebrity rolled up to the valet stand in small, snub-nosed, rather drab little cars. Director Rob Reiner, Seinfeld co-creator Larry David and agent Arie Emanuel all arrived in Hollywood's latest politically correct status symbol: the half-electric, half-gasoline hybrid car-the Toyota Prius at 50 miles to the gallon, nearly emission-free and only around $20,000. "Five Priuses drove up in a row," said Gail Reuderman Feuer, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who drove her own hybrid to the fundraiser. "I said to my husband, 'I don't know if we're going to be able to find our car afterward.' They were all lined up. It was very exciting."
With rising gas prices, global warming, resentment toward oil-rich Arab countries and fear over Middle East violence, the latest transportation trend among the Los Angeles conspicuously wealthy is conspicuous frugality. "It's the hot car," said Feuer. "People look at the Prius like they looked at a Jaguar a few years ago." Reiner traded in his BMW, David sold his Lexus and Emanuel put away his Ferrari. And they're not the only ones. The list of Hollywood's hybrid-come-lately car owners reads like headlines on the cover of People Magazine: Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carole King, Billy Joel, David Duchovny, Patricia Arquette, Jackson Browne and Bill Maher, to name-drop a few. Larry David purchased three, including one for his character, "Larry David," to drive one on his HBO series, Curb Your Enthusiasm. "It works on every level," said David, who is married to a staunch environmentalist. "I'm doing something good, and my wife has sex with me more often."
David first got a hybrid because of his wife, Laurie's strong views on big, gas-guzzling SUVs, which are popular in Los Angeles and annoying to her. "I got involved because of global warming, but hello! It's national security now. Shouldn't we be reducing our dependence on foreign oil?" The Davids started something of a chain reaction among their friends. "I have one because I found out they existed," said Reiner. "Larry David had one; he told me there's this hybrid car . . . I thought, 'Here's something I could actually do that would save on gas, save the environment, protect us from global warming.'"
Tree-hugging celebrities like Ed Begley Jr. and Woody Harrelson have long embraced experiments like the electric car. What's unusual about the hybrid is that it's easy for less dedicated activists to love; you fill it up at any gas station, about half as often as you would a conventional car. All that is required is a willingness to be seen in a vehicle that looks like those driven by most Los Angeles nannies.
The Prius isn't the only hybrid car on the market. Honda makes the two-seater Insight, which gets around 68 miles per gallon, as well as a Civic hybrid. But Toyota's version, with its computerized display showing fuel usage, has captured the imagination of Hollywood. The principle of the hybrid is simple but ingenious. In addition to a downsized, traditional gasoline engine, the hybrid has an electric motor and a battery pack that gets recharged by the gas engine while the car is on. A computer under the hood decides whether, at any given moment, the car would run more efficiently on the gas motor or electrical power. To save gas, the engine turns off completely when the car comes to a full stop, then restarts when the driver hits the accelerator; energy normally wasted in braking gets stored in the batteries. Because of the electric motor, the Prius makes very little noise.
With the fervor of the converted, celebrities driving hybrids contend that they don't miss their Beemers and Jags. And they are anxiously awaiting the next hybrid model, an SUV by Ford. "There's no reason why every car, every SUV, doesn't have the hybrid technology," Reiner argues. David adds, "When they come out with a hybrid station wagon, I'll buy it. A lot of people are just waiting for a big family car to be a hybrid. I think the market will go crazy." Reiner agrees. "If it was made clear to people that we could win the war on terrorism by driving a hybrid car, that we could stop global warming by driving a hybrid, I think people would do it," he says. "But people haven't made those kind of connections." Yet. Leave it to Hollywood to lead the way.
[Excerpted from the Washington Post]
Believe it or not this article was actually published in 2004!