After years of watching Toyota receive adulation for its ultra-green 50-mpg Prius, competing major automobile manufacturers finally are selling vehicles that take fuel-efficient motoring to a new level. Not missing a beat after delivering their first electric cars, executives from Nissan and General Motors in the past few days have thrown barbs at the Prius.
“We commonly refer to the geek-mobiles as the Prius,” said Daniel Akerson, General Motors C.E.O., while speaking last week at the Economic Club of Wash., D.C. “And I wouldn’t be caught dead in a Prius.”
Last month, the E.P.A. announced that the Chevy Volt will carry a rating of 93 mpg (equivalent) while running purely on electricity, and 37 MPG in so-called “charge-sustaining” mode—with 60 MPGe as its best “composite” number for the plug-in hybrid. The Volt was last month named “Green Car of the Year” at the 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show.
Wade Hoyt, a Toyota spokesman, replied, “Toyota has sold more than 2 million Prius hybrids worldwide, and counting. Those buyers can’t all be geeks.” (Akerson’s use of “geek” as an insult is an odd choice of words, considering the high-tech electronic nature of all electric cars.)
Then, this weekend in San Francisco, Nissan handed keys to Olivier Chalouhi, the first owner of its all-electric car, the Nisan LEAF—which the E.P.A. said has a fuel efficiency rating of 99 MPG equivalent. Carlos Tavares, chairman of Nissan Americas, praised Chalouhi for riding an electric bicycle to work, and quipped, “While we at Nissan like bikes, we assure you that [the Nissan LEAF] is an upgrade.”
He then pointed to Tom Franklin, the second Nissan LEAF customer, who was in attendance at the San Francisco ceremony. “For those of you looking for a used Toyota Prius, please see Tom because he’s also about to upgrade.”
Indeed, this month marks the beginning of a new era in the green car market. The gas-electric hybrid—the conventional kind without a plug—has been upstaged by electric cars. Despite the fact that Toyota will globally sell more Priuses in a month than Nissan and G.M. sell LEAFs and Volts combined in all of 2011, Toyota will have to withstand the ribbing. That could last until 2012, when the Toyota delivers the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid and its first two electric cars—an all-electric version of the Toyota RAV4 and a small commuter EV based on the Scion iQ.