Cameron Diaz tells Jay Leno about her Prius purchase. From John's Prius web site.

At the 2003 Oscars
'Hybrid' cars were Oscars' politically correct ride
By Kelly Carter, USA TODAY

LOS ANGELES — Sure, lots of black stretch limos pulled up to the Academy Awards last week. But the real hot wheels at the Oscars were fuel-efficient hybrid and electric vehicles.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson drove themselves in their electric Toyota RAV4.

Arriving in complimentary chauffeur-driven Toyota Priuses — a hybrid that runs on a combination of gas and battery-powered electricity — were Cameron Diaz, Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, and Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart.

Maggie Gyllenhaal took a Prius to Vanity Fair's post-Oscar bash. The previous day she and Juliette Lewis were driven to the Independent Spirit Awards in one.

Toyota teamed with Global Green USA to offer celebs a Prius to Oscar-related events.

Tooling around in a Toyota or Honda may not seem very glamorous. But the hybrid and electric cars are environmentally correct, which scores points with stars.

Last month, Mick Jagger, Christina Aguilera, Christine Lahti, Lisa Kudrow, Mira Sorvino, Johnny Depp and Luke Wilson arrived at a free Rolling Stones concert in L.A. in Honda Civic hybrids, courtesy of Honda. Toyota provided chauffeur-driven Priuses to Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Pierce Brosnan.

Robbins loved his loaner Prius so much he's considering buying one. His concern? Finding room for his brood in the $21,000 car, which seats four.

"I was driving it (last) weekend, and I'm sold," the actor said. "The kids will just have to be a little uncomfortable."

Diaz, who owns a Prius, says she drives hers every day. She's not the only star owner. DiCaprio owns two and Larry David three. Don Cheadle, Meryl Streep, David Duchovny, David Hyde Pierce, Patricia Arquette, Jackson Browne, Ted Danson, Jeff Goldblum, Donna Mills and Rob Reiner all have one. James Taylor, Richard Dreyfuss and Bonnie Raitt have the $20,000 Honda hybrid. Like Hanks, Ed Begley Jr. and Tony Shalhoub own the electric RAV4.

"I can get up to 75 miles per hour in mine," Hanks boasts.

Bill Maher, host of "Politically Incorrect", strongly endorsed the Prius while on "The O'Reilly Factor" January 11, 2002.  The energy we are now wasting is a serious concern of his, so he put his money where his mouth was and bought a Prius.  Since then he's been promoting the Prius heavily.  On this interview, he was very passionate about how practical the car was saying it was "just like any other car... it has great pep... it has great power... you don't have to plug it in".  It's the car he prefers to drive now and hopes everyone else will too. From John's Prius web site. Watch the video

Posted on Sat, Jun. 08, 2002
Half-gas, half-electric equals totally cool in L.A.

LOS ANGELES - It was one of those glittering Hollywood fund-raisers for a noble cause, the environment. Tom Hanks was hosting. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was speaking. Former president Bill Clinton was pumping flesh.

But the real news on that evening last month was in the parking lot. Celebrity after celebrity rolled up to the valet stand in small, snub-nosed, rather dowdy little cars. Director Rob Reiner and "Seinfeld" co-creator Larry David were among those arriving in Hollywood's latest politically correct status symbol: the half-electric, half-gasoline hybrid car.

The Toyota Prius: nearly emission-free and only about $20,000. Not too sexy, maybe, but definitely very hot.

"Five Priuses drove up in a row," says Gail Ruderman Feuer, a lawyer for the Natural Resources Defense Council, who drove her own hybrid to the fund-raiser. "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 gas prices rising, global warming ongoing and resentment toward some oil-rich Arab countries and fear over Middle East violence at a peak, the latest automotive trend among L.A.'s conspicuously wealthy is conspicuous frugality.

"It's the hot car," says Feuer. "People look at the Prius like they looked at a Jaguar a few years ago."

Chalk up another one for the New Normal. David sold his Lexus. Reiner traded in his BMW. And they're not alone. The list of Hollywood's hybrid-come-lately car owners reads like the table of contents of People magazine: Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, Carole King, Billy Joel, David Duchovny and Bill Maher, to name-drop a few. Patricia Arquette bought one recently; so did rocker Jackson Browne. Larry David bought three, including one so that his character, "Larry David," could drive one on his HBO series "Curb Your Enthusiasm.

"It works on every level," says David, who is married to a staunch environmentalist. "I'm doing something good, and my wife has sex with me more often."

Asked about his car, DiCaprio responded with an e-mail, writing, "This is the most radical mass-produced car in the world and I can't find any downside. My family and I own a total of four, and we drive them all over Los Angeles."

The Prius (pronounced PREE-us) isn't the only hybrid car on the market. Honda makes the two-seater Insight, which gets 68 miles per gallon, and just started mass-producing a hybrid Civic. But Toyota's version, with its computerized display showing fuel consumption, has captured the imagination of Hollywood buzzmakers.

David first got a hybrid because his wife, Laurie, has strong views about big gas-guzzling SUVs, which are hugely popular in Los Angeles and hugely annoying to her.

"Those cars should just have 'pig' spray-painted on them," says Laurie David, apparently not one for understatement. The Prius, she says, is the antidote. "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," says 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.'"

Commentator Arianna Huffington bought one last week. "I got a little tired of hearing how we're at war, and we're being asked to do nothing about it but go shopping, go to Disneyland and the mall," she says. Huffington gave up her SUV in November, then sold her Lexus after she saw the Davids' hybrid.

"It is very much a little peer pressure," she says. "Positive peer pressure."

And it's a conversation piece. The day Huffington got the car, she drove it to lunch. Within minutes, a dozen people had filed out to gawk at the little motor that could run on gas or electrical power.

"The parking lot was full of Jaguars and Bentleys," she recalls, "and my host ... brought everyone out to the driveway to look at Arianna's car. It became this point of attraction."


We expect our movie stars to drive sleek, high-end automobiles. So why have Cameron Diaz's Porsche and Mercedes been gathering dust in her garage for the past four months? Because these days the stylish actress tools around Tinseltown in a $20,000 Toyota Prius ú a hybrid car that swings both ways, alternatively guzzling climate-heating gasoline and sipping environmentally-friendly electricity. What the car lacks in class it make up in fuel saving and reduced emissions. "I love my Prius," says Diaz, 29, who reports that the batteries on her luxury cars have both died from neglect. "The Prius is all I drive." Bill Maher, who hosted Politically Incorrect, also drives a hybrid car. So does Seinfeld creator Larry David. Leonardo DiCaprio likes his hybrid so much that he bought three more, for his mom, dad and stepmom and took time out from a Steven Spielberg set to boast to Time about his high-tech wheels. "People are always impressed,' he notes, "with the way it drives, the gas mileage and how quiet it is."

If celebrity endorsements sold cars, hybrids would be flying off dealers' lots. But with their oddball designs--critics dubbed them "clown cars"-the first generation of hybrids barely dented the consciousness of car-buying Americans. According to one survey, most Americans still think the batteries in hybrids have to be plugged in to get recharged. (Wrong. They are rejuiced automatically as you drive.) No wonder only 20,000 of the 17 million automobiles sold in the U.S. last year were hybrids.

But now the auto industry wants to take another crack at it. A hybrid version of the Honda Civic, the best-selling compact car in America, started rolling into dealerships nationwide in April. Next year Ford, which has produced a string of electric cars, is expected to be the first U.S. manufacturer to introduce a hybrid vehicle. I took the politically correct version of the six- cylinder Escape for an exclusive spin. Meanwhile, Toyota, General Motors and Chrysler have all promised a new crop of hybrid vehicles by 2004. J.D. Power & Associates, which tracks consumer tastes for the auto industry, expects that by 2006, American consumers will be buying half a million hybrids a year.

Why all the excitement? "Hybrids are the first viable alternative to the gasoline engine," says Prabhakar Patil, the chief engineer for Ford's hybrid program, who notes that cars that run on fuel cells-widely expected to be the next technological advance in automotive power at least 10 years off. Hybrids still have a major hurdle to over come: sticker shock (more on that later). But for car buyers who want to do their part for the environment and are willing to pay a few grand extra to do it, hybrids are the only game in Motown.

The first things you notice when you drive one is how quiet it is. The engine goes blissfully silent every time you stop at an intersection. That's because the gas engine shuts off to allow the electric motor to take over. Gas engines are at their least efficient-and produce the most emissions-when idling, so that's when it makes the most sense to make the switch. The cars are chock-full of clever tricks like this. Every time you touch the brakes, for example, kinetic energy that would normally be lost in the braking system is recaptured b the electric motor, which in turn recharges the battery-a process known as regenerative braking. Some hybrids use their electric motors to control the power steering or to give the car extra oomph at higher speeds.

Hybrids are surprisingly fun to drive. The electric motor on the Toyota Prius can keep the car cruising at speeds up to 42 m.p.h. without any help, although it needs power from the gas engine to accelerate to that speed. A panel on the dashboard displays average fuel efficiency calculated on the fly, and tells you when the electric motor is being used to charge the batteries or to assist the gasengine. "You find yourself playing games to see how efficiently you can make your trip," says Eileen Hart, 42, a San Francisco marketing consultant who recently bought a 2002 Prius.

The new hybrid Civic uses a smaller electric motor and a more powerful gas engine than the Prius, so it's always burning gas, except when it's braking or standing still. Even so, it gets 47 m.p.g. in the city and 51 m.p.g. on the freeway, approximately a 25% improvement over the gas-only version. Aside from a small HYBRID logo on the trunk, it looks just like a regular Civic. About the only drawbacks are the high sticker price ($19,550, roughly $2,500 more than a similarly equipped standard Civic) and slightly slower acceleration. "UNTIL YOU OWN A HYBRID, YOU DON'T REALIZE HOW WASTEFUL STANDARD VEHICLES ARE." -LEONARDO DICAPRIO, actor and Prius owner Ford, for its part, claims that when its hybrid Escape SUV goes on sale next year, it will have all the zip of the regular Escape, even though it will run off a smaller four - cylinder engine. The extra horsepower is supposed to come from a state-of-the-art electric motor. The company is promising an impressive 40 m.p.g. in city driving, vs. the 23 m.p.g. the gas-only version gets today.

I got behind the wheel of a hybrid Escape when I visited Ford's product development center in Dearborn, Mich. Ford would not let me drive the proto type up the steepest test hills or around the sharpest curves, but I was impressed by the gentle, seamless shifting between the gas engine and electric power at low speeds. The car went silent every time I released the gas pedal or drove it slowly in reverse.

For all their benefits, however, hybrids do cost a few thousand dollars more than their gas-only counterparts. While you may be able to recoup that money in fuel savings within 10 years, it's still a big initial investment. And the batteries are guaranteed under warranty for only eight years, at which point customers may have to shell out as much as $2,000 for a replacement. "People are not willing to pay extra money for fuel economy in the U.S.," says Rich Marsh, who heads GM's hybrid-truck program. That's why GM plans to market its hybrid GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups, due out in 2004, not on their tiny improvement in fuel consumption but on the benefits of their onboard electric generators and standard outlets for plugging in power tools. It's still hard to tell whether Detroit is really serious about the hybrid-car business.

After all, the same companies touting their hybrids today just lobbied successfully to put the brakes on legislation that would have mandated tougher fuel-efficiency standards. President Bush has proposed tax credits of $2,000 to $3,000 for hybrid-car buyers, but those funds aren't likely to kick in for another two years, if ever. Until then, if you want your fancy hybrid car, you'll have to pay a premium. Maybe that's what appeals to the movie stars.

-With reporting by Andrew Goldstein/ Washington, Jeffrey Ressner/Los
Angeles, Joseph R. Szczesny/Detroit and Roy B. White/ New York