AutoMatters: Prius – To Go Before

By Jan R. Wagner

Prius is the Latin word for ‘coming before,’ which explains the name To Go Before for “the first and only official national gathering of Prius owners.” Over the course of three days, at California Citrus State Historic Park in Riverside and at Lake Arrowhead, we attended informative Toyota hybrid tech sessions, saw and experienced aftermarket vendors’ products, and took test drives in Prius family vehicles and the all-electric RAV4.

Dave Brannon, Toyota’s Accessory Planning Manager, explained that genuine Toyota accessories are designed to perform efficiently, conform to Toyota’s rigorous OEM standards and, in the case of the Prius family of vehicles, not have a negative impact on fuel economy.

Representing the technical side of Toyota’s Prius family was Dave Lee, Senior Product Communications Specialist. He previously worked with the late Dave Hermance, Executive Engineer for Advanced Technology Vehicles’ at the Toyota Technical Center, and who was affectionately referred to as the father of the Prius (see my interview of Dave Hermance about hybrid battery technology in AutoMatters #219 in the 2006 Column Archives at


Toyota has made a long-term commitment to developing gasoline-saving, environmentally friendly Prius technology. As Dave Lee explained, there are advantages and disadvantages to current hybrid-EV battery types (lead-acid, nickel metal hydride and lithium-ion). Factors to consider include energy density, weight, size, recharge time, battery life and cost.

There is a reason why a Prius looks the way it looks, and that reason is aerodynamics. Did you know that, all else being equal, a longer vehicle has better fuel efficiency than a shorter one?

Vehicles propelled by electric motors can have terrific torque from a standstill. I drove a RAV4 electric at To Go Before and it broke the tires loose when I floored it.

With regenerative braking, slowing the car down by application of the brake pedal converts the vehicle’s momentum into generated electricity, in order to replenish the hybrid battery system. Look ahead to see when traffic is slowing and, where possible, use a light foot on the brake pedal to maximize the regenerative braking effect and minimize the use of the vehicle’s friction brakes.

As an added bonus, the Plug-in hybrid qualifies for the California DMV’s single occupant carpool lane stickers.

The one thing that blew me away happened on Sunday, after To Go Before officially ended. We had driven from Riverside to have lunch at Lake Arrowhead. In the morning I’d heard some of the participants speculating about the fuel mileage they might achieve on the return trip back down the mountain to San Bernardino. I decided to reset my trip computer and see for myself. What I discovered was incredible.

Initially, after the reset, the fuel economy number was 999 mpg (representing maximum fuel economy). As the vehicle is driven, that number drops very quickly to whatever the actual fuel mileage is: for me, that is usually between 55 – 70 mpg, since I do not make many short trips in all-electric mode between inexpensive 2 ½ hour (120-volt) charges.

My Plug-in’s battery reserve for all-electric driving was at zero. I had long since used all of the charge from when I plugged the car in at home on Thursday evening.

The trip down the mountain was a distance of 14.8 miles. I had the lights and ventilation fan on. Occasionally I used the gas pedal but mostly I used the brake pedal, which activated the regenerative braking. When I checked the display at the bottom, it still read 999 mpg! Not only that, but the regenerative braking almost fully recharged my car’s all-electric driving capability, which gave me an additional range of 9.8 miles of all-electric driving, to be used later. That is absolutely amazing.

Before closing, I’ve really got to hand it to the organizers of this event. For our ridiculously small entry fee, we were fed at every possible opportunity; given all sorts of small, branded giveaway goodies and a really nice backpack to put them in; and had opportunities to win some of the many raffle prizes generously donated by the event’s sponsors. Highlights included Bridgestone tires; upgraded speakers and an amplifier from OEM Audio (; a set of fitted leather seat covers from Clazzio (; a variety of Toyota-branded items and more. After hearing their clarity, even at low volume, I so wanted to win those OEM Audio speakers and amp. Oh well...

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Copyright © 2013 by Jan Wagner – #285