Taking your Prius to the Trailhead?

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | August 13, 2006      

I laughed out loud today at reports of how the summer Outdoor Retailer (OR) trade show is going. Somehow the Hummer marketing folks slipped in a test drive of the Hummer H3 sport utility vehicle. Tread Lightly was there as well (the powersport version of Leave no Trace.)

The powers that be at OR (as well as many of the show’s participants) like to think they’re involved in some kind of green revolution, what with the human powered sports much of their industry supports. I mean, where else can you follow green painted footsteps to find someone who makes jackets out of recycled plastic? Thus, the fact OR hosted a Hummer promo raised a few eyebrows.

But reality, as they say, bites. Fact is you don’t see that many Prius hybrids at backcountry trailheads. From what I’ve seen parked in the backcountry (and at the OR show), the OR type of person’s vehicle of choice is either a boxy Subaru type of all-wheel-drive car, or yes Lord forbid an SUV (including pickup trucks)! In fact, lots of SUVs…

Yep, people who hike, climb and backpack also drive. And many drive SUVs and trucks. Perhaps the enviro-whiners at OR don’t know their motorhead Ps and Qs? The Hummer H3 promoted at OR is little more than another roomy SUV with enough undercarriage clearance for rough roads leading to the trailheads (where our incredibly green recreation begins). It’s not the Hummer of yore, which was basically a consumerized military vehicle that gulped fuel like a dry horse at a desert stock tank. H3 still likes gas, but of similar thirst to most other SUV’s of its size — like the ones you see at the trailheads and parked at the OR show.

As for OR, if they really want to save the world, what better way then working with the automobile industry and associated outfits such as Tread Lightly? By being involved rather than turning up their collective noses (as they turn their steering wheels anyway) the outdoor industry can show the auto industry that the human powered crowd likes capable backcountry automobiles, but wants them as eco friendly as possible.

Influence is a collective thing. No one outfit, neither the 1,000 pound gorilla Sierra Club nor less weighty OR, is going to cause auto makers to give us off-pavement ready but vastly greener autos. Yet each vote counts. Thus, I consider it bold and forward thinking for OR to allow more automotive content at their show. Yep, perhaps we’ll see that Prius lift kit sooner rather than later.


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11 Responses to “Taking your Prius to the Trailhead?”

  1. Mark August 13th, 2006 4:51 pm

    Hybrids consume less fuel than similar gas vehicles, but even better, in my understanding, are the efficient diesels. Why have they taken off in Europe but not here? I think I’d rather go diesel than hybrid myself.

  2. Ricky August 14th, 2006 6:42 am

    I don’t know if they haven’t taken off or just haven’t been promoted properly. My uncle just got a VW jetti diesel for work but he was told there were only 48 brought into the US, I doubt that becuase there wasn’t any demand.
    But as for me…My V8 Dodge is just fine.

  3. Mark August 14th, 2006 8:28 am

    The VW Jetta diesel, for one, is seen around occasionally, and I’ve known several people that owned diesel Volkswagens–there certainly were far more than 48 imported to the U.S. over the course of more than ten years of production. Look for TDI on the back of Volkswagens. There is a significant number of them out there.

  4. Andrew August 14th, 2006 8:34 am

    My trusty Civic hasn’t let me down yet on Jeep roads to trailheads, though this does add an extra layer of adventure to my hikes. Of course, there are limits to where you can go in a passenger car, but it’s sure nice to get 40mpg once you hit the highway.

    Re ‘efficient Diesels’: Diesel engines, in my understanding, create significantly more (and more dangerous) pollution over their lifetimes than gas engines.

  5. Shane August 14th, 2006 9:41 am

    I think that while Hummer-hatred began partly due to excessive gas consumption of the older models, it was also fueled (bad pun intended) by the perception of Hummers as a status symbol for wealthy people who themselves consumed more than their “fair share” of resources and who wanted a big showy off-road vehicle even though it would probably never touch a dirt road.

    The presence of Hummers upset lots of outdoorsy folks who presumably live the image that Hummer drivers wish to project by spending lots of money rather than investing in the time and skills that it takes to actually live the outdoorsy mountain-man livestyle. Kind of a reverse elitism.

    Now with the H3 (which gets the same mpg as my old Pathfinder), still can’t shake that stigma of in the eyes of the OR crowd. People aren’t upset with the H3 because it’s a gas guzzler, they’re upset because Hummers are seen as a vehicle for rich poseurs who want others to believe that they too are capable of BC skiing, climbing, whatever even though they never do those things.

    I think it’s ironic that the new H3 adds show people buying them, on impulse, as a way to regain their self confidence. For instance, there’s a guy who runs out and buys one because he was embarrased to be seen buying tofu while the next guy in line at the grocery store was buying a bunch of red meat.

    To me that says, “if you’re overly concerned that others think you’re a wuss, than go buy a Hummer”. What were they thinking? I think that add alone will kill Hummer sales.

  6. Lou August 14th, 2006 9:58 am

    Good comments Shane and all.

    I’d certainly like to see automobiles sold on their merits of performance, rather than as a status symbol.

    But then, I think I’ve heard that same process at work at the ski rack in the store… human nature. Consumer culture is not just about cars.

    IMHO, the bulk of items on display at the Outdoor Retailer trade show are bought on impulse, frequently as status symbols or ways to gain self confidence. That doesn’t make them or the people that buy them wrong, but it’s a bit of reach to say Hummer bad, fatter skis good, based on motivations of people buying them.

    I also agree that when it comes to trailhead transportation, you run what you brung and make it work. On the other hand, it’s nice to have a capable truck or SUV if you’re going for tough backcountry trailheads (not roadside pullouts). Having such a vehicle has saved me an immense amount of time and money over the years. And yes I tried it with a Honda Civic. They get good MPG, but clutches for those things are expensive, as are mufflers. And once you drive two Civics to the trailhead instead of car pooling in one larger SUV, you’ve obviated most of the MPG advantage.

  7. George Privon August 14th, 2006 1:28 pm

    Good article Lou. I see lots of Hummers out here in Honolulu. It’s actually quite comical – H2’s with low profile tires and high end rims and so big they can’t even fit in the parking stalls. I always want to ask the owner “please tell me why you bought that thing” or “how does it feel to fill it up with high test” And while we’re at it, what’s up with the Porsche turbo Cayennes on this small paved over rock in the middle of the Pacific. You just gotta laugh..

  8. Lou August 15th, 2006 5:23 am

    Yeah, sort of like using backcountry ski gear at the ski resort (grin).

  9. Lou October 16th, 2006 6:49 am

    Stephen, thanks for the comment. Indeed, we see a lot of single drivers in their Prius on the highway, and when two of us are in our Toyota truck going skiing we’re getting the same mpg/person as the Prius with one person, as the Prius doesn’t get that great of an MPG on the highway since it has to haul a couple hundred pounds of batteries around, while our truck is getting at least a steady 21 mpg x 2 = 42 mpg/person (my wife commutes by herself in the Toyota, so I’m speaking somewhat rhetorically here). More, the Prius batteries and technology only help mileage when you’re in stop and go traffic. On the highway, it’s just another small somewhat light car with a small engine and a big load of batteries. Also, you may not be getting as good gas mileage in the Prius as you think. Check out this and associated blogs:

    Don’t get me wrong, I think hybrid automotive technology is cool and has a future, but the Prius is not the end all be all of the green lifestyle, especially if you drive rough terrain. Driving less and driving smarter (more people in the truck, less speed, etc.) are equally as important, and perhaps more so.

    For example, I needed a truck that was good for trailheads and could tow my Jeep. I got a Chevy Silverado with the 350 V8. Sure, it only gets around 20 MPG in real world highway driving, but I can go for a whole week without driving the thing since I work at home and live in the middle of a small town just blocks from services such as post office, library and coffee shops, and thus my overall mileage for a year is so low my gas mileage doesn’t really matter.

    As for the Toyota, if all we used it for was my wife’s commute then we’d probably have her driving something smaller with better MPG, but it’s a multi-purpose vehicle and we’re willing to pay some extra gas money every year so we have that nice truck for recreation.

  10. Stephen Witte October 16th, 2006 5:57 am

    Good question about the Prius vs 4×4 SUV/Truck at the trailhead. Our family has both, a new 2006 Prius and a ’97 F350 Crew Cab with a 460 V8 engine. We cover both ends of the gas mileage spectrum, ~47 MPG for the Prius, and about 8-9 MPG for the truck with a camper on it. Even without the camper, the truck gets about 10 MPG. We’re just now debating about which to take up to Lake Tahoe this winter for a week of fun in the snow. Most likely, it will be the truck. Why? No need to mess with chains. No need to buy a new roof rack for several hundred $ for the prius. Also, not sure how good it is for the prius to be a bit overloaded, with stuff hanging outside and all. Truck, on the other hand, will never ever in any way shape or form be overloaded. We may even take two families in the one vehicle. This only gets us to about half the per person MPG, (equivalent to two vehicles getting 20 mpg each.)

  11. YoWoof January 21st, 2010 6:08 pm

    When will we see a hybrid truck? How about a mini van?

    :ninja: The prius drive train works, and has many of features desireable in a work vehicle like low end torque plus economy (read low over head). It also has a built in inverter to provide AC power (lots of it) on demand!

    The prius has been around in Japan for well over 10 years. I found in some of my research articles describing on of the first prototypes in a Japanese auto show; sure nuff, it was a van with a built in AC power outlet!

    I’m not a genius, but someone is making some bad marketing decisions in Tokyo… :ninja:

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