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Elmer Rudd

Neil Dowling
Contributing Journalist

12 Jun 2008 • 4 min read

So Rudd has committed $35 million of taxpayers’ funds for Toyota to build a car that Toyota was going to build anyway.

The Toyota Camry Hybrid — available since last year in the USA — arrives in Australia in 2010 aimed at those people who still have money left in their pockets.

Where did the $35 million come from? It's the money Mitsubishi returned to the Federal Government after giving up on building the 380.

I guess more money will be needed from us to give an equal amount of money to Ford and Holden who may have similar ideals. Maybe the Victorian government can foot that bill after personally coughing up $25 million to further help the Toyota hybrid scheme.

Is the price of petrol hurting you? Tell us how ...

In an amazingly naive, off-the-cuff gesture with our money, Rudd reckons hybrid cars should be produced by car makers and sold as low-emission, low fuel consumption answers to personal mobility.

It's a warm and cuddly idea that will go nowhere. In the same week as Rudd's announcement — incidentally it was World Environment Day during that week — our own website survey found very few motorists were interested in hybrid cars.

As we have found, they are expensive and compared with a similar-sized petrol car, take more than 10 years of driving before their economy compensates for the purchase price difference.

Did I mention the hybrid battery. In fact, did anyone mention the hybrid battery?

This overgrown, overpriced mobile phone battery costs about $5000.

It will last anywhere from five to 10 years before needing replacement. The battery cost is falling, so guess $2500 as a future replacement cost — or in layman's terms, equivalent to the cost of 21 months of petrol at the average annual car distance.

The old battery will then need to be disposed of with considerable safety.

So we have a new Toyota Camry Hybrid costing about $5000 more than a petrol Camry but is estimated to be 43 per cent more economical.

The official fuel consumption of the Camry Hybrid is 5.7 litres/100km, compared with 9.9 l/100km for the Camry petrol.

The breakeven point — when the Hybrid's better fuel economy finally catches up with the Hybrid's $5000 extra purchase cost, is five years. (at $1.60 a litre and 15,000km a year).

So if you keep the car for five years and maintain the official fuel figures the Hybrid will work for you.

But do you really need one?

Australia sold 1437 Toyota Prius in the five months to May this year. That's a mere 7.4 per cent of the sales of the much cheaper Toyota Corolla.

So who's pushing the hybrid line?

Does the Federal Government's sudden interest in hybrid cars go deeper?

Rudd wants hybrid cars made here because he has heard — later than any other motoring journalist and their readers, it seems — that Toyota intends to build a hybrid version of its Camry.

Last year, during the Tokyo motor show in October, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe told journalists that the Camry hybrid would be made at an additional factory in the Asian region. When asked, he did not dismiss that Australia would build that car.

Toyota's Victorian plant manufactures or assembles Camry and Aurion models. It has room for a third model and, using imported hybrid powerplants, it is feasible to make a hybrid version of the Camry. Toyota has never denied or refused to acknowledge this fact.

But the point is: Why? Why would Toyota spend millions and millions of dollars to make a hybrid car that will cost motorists more to buy and yet show limited long-term economic benefits?

The over-riding error in Mr Rudd's thinking is that the car industry is self-policing. It doesn't need — and won't listen to — a politician telling them how to make cars. Customers do that.

If the Toyota Prius hybrid is such a great car every Australian family would have one. Not only that, but every other car maker would be making a hybrid rival.

Better benefits for ourselves, the environment and a future of reliable energy may be found on our rooftops.

Except for the Federal Government's very anti-environmental stance of cancelling the subsidy on solar cells.

The demise of the subsidy on solar panels for domestic and commercial buildings was one big — and unexpected — hit, especially for West Australians.

Do you know how many Australian homes can have “free” domestic electricity — without contributing anything to greenhouse gases — by restoring the $8000 subsidy?

With the $35 million picked up by Toyota to do what it was going to do anyway, the answer is 4375 homes that will dramatically reduce energy needs from coal, gas or nuclear.

Time to look after the needs at home, Rudd, not in Tokyo.


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