Saturday, May 28, 2011

Toyota Prius Hybrid car - Experiance from a long term user


When the government reduced import tax for hybrids and people started to buy Prius cars, I started to get so many calls from friends and from friends of friends. For few weeks, it was as if I was a Prius dealer, expert or a mechanic! Well, I'm non of above yet I helped those callers to the best of my ability. It is then it occurred to me that if I put a blog post, it would be useful for some people and easier for me as well! The recent post by සඳරු at හිස් අහස prompted me to put that thought into quick action...

Now, the reason why people asking me about Prius issues are because I'm one of those rare guys in Colombo who was (put your favorite adjective in here. crazy/stupid/brave/lucky whatever) enough to buy an earlier model of a Prius (when at the time they were rather unheard of a model and a technology in here) and so have actual experience of 5-6 years in using them in Sri Lankan conditions. My car is a old 1997 model Prius (as one in the photo above), which is the very first Prius model to come out of factories. Japan started to export Prius only in 2001. The recent models 2008-2010 are far more advanced and superb in features than my old poor car, yet the main principles of the hybrid concept is more or less same so answers can be the same for most of generic hybrid car questions. 

Let me list most frequent questions I got and their answers :

1) How easy is it to find parts in here ?
No big deal. At least for my model, almost all the parts I have replaced so far were compatible with other Toyota models. Namely Corolla 121 or Allion. Parts I have to replace/renew in last 6 years since I bought my car were Shock Absorbers, CV joint, spark plugs, lower arm bush, mounts, break pads etc. They were all compatible, as you know Toyota parts are the easiest to find in Sri Lanka.

2) How expensive were repairs/maintenance ?
It's exactly same as any other Toyota model. I mean servicing the vehicle, renewing parts etc. I didn't encounter needs for repairing the hybrid unit yet, but will come to that later.. So, as for all the other repairs which you encounter 99% of the time of normal vehicle repairing,  It was relatively cheap. Reason was mechanics in Sri Lanka are more familiar with Toyota. As mentione d above parts ere not expensive either (when compared to let's say Honda, Mazda etc)

3) How many kilometers does it do for a liter of petrol
For some reason most people are under the impression that Prius does about 40 kilo meters for a liter of patrol! completely not true!! May be the reason for this myth is in the manuals it says fuel consumption is 40mpg. Note, that means 40 miles per gallon! and gallon means a US gallon. this need to be converted to kilometer and liters. 40 mpg is 24 km/l and that is ideal lab condition expectation. In reality, the car was expected to do somewhere above just 20. While this is still very good and almost double the fuel efficiency of a normal car, it is no where near what some people assume a Prius to be. In the newer models expectation is to near the efficiency level of 50mpg. This would mean about 30 kilometers per liter. Hope an owner of a new Prius car would confirm for us whether this can be observable under normal Sri Lankan conditions.

As for my car, it did about 20 - 22 outstations and about 15 in the city traffic. Averaging about 17-18 per liter at every month. I was very happy  with that. Since people were so afraid to buy this car then (I bought that in 2005), it had a lesser market value, so I did not spend any additional amount to gain that fuel befit. It was a total save! Besides the amount I spend to buy the car was actually even less than then market value of then recent model of Corolla!! So I had reasons to be happy.

Over the years, fuel efficiency dropped a little. After 6 years now it is doing only about 18 outstations and 12 in city traffic. Still not so bad considering the car is now 14 years old and have now done about 120 000 Kilometers.

4) How far can you go in battery without using petrol
This question is entirely wrong. Prius can't go any distance without petrol, petrol needs to be in the tank at all times. This is not an electric vehicle. You can view it as an efficiently built petrol car with some fuel saving features. Some of those features are :
  • High fuel efficient engine
  • Body shape to reduce air resistance.
  • Re generative braking. 
  • Extra power get saved in a battery and will be used later
  • Engine stops when the vehicle is idle in traffic
  • Newer models can provide air conditioning from the batter power.
  • LCD display with fuel consumption statistics.
So it's more correct to view a hybrid car as basically a normal petrol vehicle with few fuel saving features with the aid of a rechargeable battery among other things. I personally give lot of credit to the LCD display for high fuel efficiency as it helps us to find faults in our driving and help improve our driving habits to improve fuel efficiency. For instance, in the first week after buying the Prius I recorded just 10 Kilometers per liter. Once I get used to how to drive a Prius properly (in fact these techniques are true for any car), my fuel consumption reduced almost by 50% !  Basically you need to aggressively accelerate at the start, get into a comfortable speed quickly and then try to maintain that as a constant without pressing hard on the accelerator. This technique is called 'feathering' you give gas just enough to keep the current speed and not more.

Opposite of this is what most drivers do. Accelerate like crazy when ever possible and then brake like crazy. Lot of energy get wasted when we accelerate just to break few seconds later.  

Another false understanding on Prius is that people trying to go solely from battery as long as they could thinking that they are saving fuel. This is actual wrong! Once the battery discharges, then the car will have to waste petrol to get the battery charge again! This technique therefore provides no gain and even decrease the overall performance.  A mentioned above, when we try to drive in a constant speed without burning additional fuel, system will automatically decide to provide additional power via battery, this is the energy which  normally get wasted in ordinary vehicles.

5) What if the battery goes dead. how expensive is it to get imported ?
In the days I bought it, if the battery goes dead that would have been  a big issue for me since there were not many importers and the battery in 1997 model was a big heavy monster. I think it would have cost at least 2-3 hundred thousand to (2K-3K US$) get a new one from Japan, if not more. However battery never died, well not yet at least! Toyota is known to be very smug about this and say 'our battery never dies', (but we Buddhists should know better on that!). In my model, Toyota used to give a warranty of 160000 kilometers or 8 years for the battery! even though we don't get this in reconditioned Sri Lankan cars, this shows how confident they were on their batteries. The newer models should be even better! We all know how much dry fuel cell battery technology has improved since 1997!

Another thing is when I felt like battery performance is going down a bit, I used to go to a good friend of mine who had just the right equipments and know how to address the issue. (too bad I can't name him here due to  professional reasons from his side) Basically he could open up the battery, take down 40 odd individual small cells inside it and measure them for voltage. He says if one cell is defective, all the other cells after it will not charge properly and that's the reason of overall battery performance to go down. So he would just find the defective cell, charge it from the main (like I said he has equipments!) and reassemble the battery, problem gone! For the last 6 years I had to do this only once and he hasn't even charge any money for that! (Like I said he was a friend of mine!)

I have just mentioned above information to show the readers that there really is not a big problem to worry over. This is a technologically very advanced age and information can be found readily in internet. So there is nothing like a impossible technical problem when it comes to issues like these. Only reason I have about these batteries are that how are we going to recycle them in about 15-10 years of time from now. Batteries are very toxic and I hope there will be plans and places which does proper recycling, otherwise these batteries could cause lot harm to the environment to offset the good Prius is now doing with lowered emissions and lowered fuel consumption. This is a point most people pay little attention to.

Re-generative breaking mentioned above is the process where the hybrid car saves the additional kinetic energy at the time we are breaking in to a rechargeable battery. In normal vehicles, this energy get wasted as heat when we apply breaks. In Prius, a separate motor will work when we apply breaks. (that's why we hear that nice humming noise while breaking)  this motor will convert kinetic energy into electricity and save it in the battery for later use. Again, breaking need to be applied in a controlled manner for this system to work efficiently.

6) How good a car is this

This is a great car! On this you don't have to listen to anybody. Here is a simple test : Go to toyota site, check the prices of top range Toyota cars. You would see something like this : (prices in US$)
Corolla : 16K-18K
Camry :   20K
Prius :      22.5K  
Yaris :      13K
Avalon :    33K
RAV4  :    22K  

Prius is priced much higher than common models such as Corollo and Yaris. Even more expensive than Rav4 which is a SUV! Only Avalon is more expensive than Prius, but then Avalon is a super luxury vehicle which drink petrol (relative terms) if you are of that type.

So Prius is a expensive vehicle than Yaris or Corolla, yet due to tax breaks in Sri Lanka, a Prius cost less even than those economy Toyota models! Not to mention the amounts of money you can save on fuel afterwards! Therefore it's a definite attractive model to buy. In addition, Prius is possibly the most greenest of petrol / hybrid vehicles out there. It has been initially designed as a low emission vehicle to be environment friendly. It's a good part from the government to reduce tax and encourage people to go for the greener options like these.

Honda Hybrid models like Insight (World's first hybrid car If I'm not mistaken.) are also had to be good but I do not have hands on experience on those. Earlier Insight models used to be even better than earlier Prius models in terms of fuel efficiency but Insight lost market due to it being a 2 seater while Prius was categorized as a mid size sedan.

Got more questions on Prius... ? Feel free to ask!

PS :
Driving the Prius was always a very comfortable experience. Good handling, control, super sensitive breaking and power steering, short turning radius etc. Surprisingly pickup seems to be very good as well. Having battery is useful at hill climbing when you can get power from 2 sources. All this while saving the environment too ! In short I would recommend this car. However, according to what i know there is not much practical difference between 2009 model and 2010 model except in pricing. So going for 3rd generation 2009 model (which is lot advanced compared with 2nd generation 2008 model) seems to be the right choice.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Services to the Rescue!

When we hear about most successful companies today, what are the first names which come to our minds ? Google, Facebook, Oracle, Microsoft ...

What do they all have in common ? Well, they all produce software products, places where coding geeks work. Close answer, but still not it! They all produce services to people and none of them producing (manufacturing) anything material !!

Service industry is having a good time at the expense of the manufacturing industries!

Let's take a seemingly counter example. Apple. Apple do provide many services like iTunes, App Store, Mac OS, iPhone OS and SDK etc  However, they are more widely known for their gadget devices. iPhone, iPod, iPad, MacBook Air, iMac etc all cool gadgets! What do they all have in common ? They all have replaced the need of few additional devices we have to carry on with ourselves! They all have made us free from additional stuff by bundling many of them together and into a much smaller size as well. In effect, these gadgets have indeed reduced the total manufacturing which would have otherwise happen if they were not there! Just think about it.. MP3 players, laptops, phones, digital cameras, video game players, FM radios, Video CAM coders, GPS devices, alarm clocks, voice recorders.... we don't have to use all these devices anymore. It's not just that the digital divergence making progress, it is also a sign how much people like (naturally ) to be free from stuff!

When we use Facebook, Gmail, Skype or yahoo to communicate with our friends and build online communities, or use wordpress or blogspot to express ourselves and be accessible to others, or use wikipedia to learn something, Not only we are use way less paper, ink and so many other things! We actually psychologically moving away from consumerism since we adopt new goals and interests in life which does not involve buying, owning and keeping things. Naturally human beings are geared towards having a simple free life without having to hold on to so many properties (stuff).

I think stuff has started to get into us in a big after the industrial revolution. first we marveled at the ability of technology to make our lives easy by providing us with handy tools for everything. Of course after a certain limit, holding on to stuff just becomes a plain burden. It put strain into world's resources, adds onto produced waste, emit more CO2 and take up more energy. Once we trap in a consumption and purchasing lifestyle, things we buy no longer are the ones we absolutely need. We become prisoners beside a mountain of stuff we need to clean, arrange, move and maintain. When Paul Graham says "I'll take services over goods any day." he echos sentiments of most of future men.

Bypassing the safe and sane limits, buying and owning things have now become a goal and a drive in itself. Owning things become so important that it tends to even define us, and people (not to mention countries) compete with each other to own more! once it get to that level as it has now, of course it becomes nothing but a shallow activity, a bad habit (and a dangerous one for the ECO system) we need to drop!

People are indeed doing that unconscionably. Until now they didn't have an alternative avenue to put there passions in. To compete with others, to find a meaning to life. No let out to concentrate their efforts into. Hence purchasing, owning and collecting stuff became a life goal. Not anymore! With the advancement of information technology, people have finally found and finding alternative let outs for enjoyment, achievement, entertainment, expression, communication and lot more other things. Services we mentioned above are empowering people to lead satisfied lives without making them slaves of manufacturing industries and advertisements.

Now then, like manufacturing produced guns and weapons, Services too will produce negative things like ... (insert your list in here). Or people could chose to get lost in endless procrastination and loose sense of reality. In everything, there will be a choice for us to use it in a good way or in a disastrous way. However, in services there are few most noticeable benefits for all. Services do not take up natural resources to build them. Services do not produce waste. Services do not ruin environment. Services do not load us with stuff which we have to maintain and carry with us like a burden. Good services make us save our time, reduce stress. More importantly Services help us develop our real important skills such as communication, learning, gather knowledge, appreciating art, self expression... 

Improvements in service industry may help usher in the next phase of human evolution. Industrial revolution helped us giving more tools and equipment and brought about materialist, consumerism age. Similarly the revolution of information technology and services in general (Let's call it the Revolution of Services) will bring about the age of  knowledge and skill improvements. Human beings will value knowledge and the processes of acquiring it more and more instead of owning and collecting material stuff. Gaining soft skills like communication, analytical thinking, IQ, general knowledge will replace the crave for gaining more goods, owning property and even earning money, who knows! Service don;t cost much so the need for money will get reduced and that will replace by the need for intelligence, knowledge and other mental faculties... are we day dreaming? But look at it logically, once we are not so keen in buying and collecting stuff and more interested in internet, games, communication, education, self expression etc and when most of those come either free or very cheaply via new services, our need for money has to go bit down. 

There are other implications as well. What will happen to Adam Smiths theories on Supply and Demand ? Take a popular service like Gmail, Facebook, Wikepedia, Ubuntu or just even an online free game server. What happens to the supply ? that parameter doesn't seem to exist in that world! Well, unlike physical goods which get produced by limited resources (raw materials like minerals, fossil fuels, wood etc) a software product (for instance) does not take additional resources to reproduce. Once you build it first time, you can just distribute many copies for no additional cost! This is even more so for services like Gmail or Facebook. Those services can be made available for millions more without much of additional cost so the supply is no constraint. This is one reason why those services can be made available for free as they are now!

Now let's think about the implication of this. Supply and Demand which defined so many things in  manufacturing based economies will get increasingly meaningless in a service based economy. With the supply and Demand goes out, one will need to have new theories to define free market etc. May be the equivalent of that in services is Open Source. Now for old fashioned economists that might introduce more questions than answers! Without a price how can we measure wealth, progress, development etc... Well, not only soft skills a person has can not be measured by GDP, it is far more important and a valuable asset/indication than GDP. In other words our definitions of development, progress, economy all will need changes.

We can have an easy answer for all these. Google earning big money from advertisement aren't they ? so they can still be included in current economical practices, definitions and paradigms. Well may be. However, this is how old guards always tried to save their existing system, somehow trying to sneak in anomalies into the old system ignoring the fact that they don't really match nicely in it. For someone who takes the existing system as the bible, there is no other solution than to understand everything through the eyes and ears of the existing system, simply because for him, it is the only system there can ever be! However, to a open minded person, slight anomalies which highlights gaps in an established system just work as an opportunity to invent something new!

Future economists will invent new paradigms and theories to properly include service oriented economies with concepts like Open Source and 'free' which at the same does not adhere into Supply, Demand in a world where money and the importance of earning it is diminished.  This will be a vastly different environment than the current but we can already see a glimpse of it and judge how things might span out in future. Old concepts such as Capitalism, Socialism, Supply and Demand etc will either become outdated or will have redefined meanings in such a world. Which is good, for our priority is properly understanding, evaluating and modeling new events and phenomena rather than safe guarding old systems and outdated concepts!

Services will rescue human race from over consumption of environment. Services will help humans to find more challenging goals to achieve and self improvement. Above all, services will help us break free from consumerism and help save the world! At least this seems to be the best bet we have for the moment!!

Images :,

Monday, May 23, 2011

Quality of Life in The 21st Century


Are humans just hard wired to consume as much as possible or is moving out of consumerist lifestyle the coming next big thing in human society ? This was the question we wondered on in the last post

Those who are new to this, also refer to this one and this and this, You will be fully armed with the context and ready to do damage!

We buy stuff mostly after falling victim to advertisement and marketing (whether we admit it or not). Advertisements are not just stuff we see in TV. Advertisements are in everywhere, some stays inside our minds from childhood as concept level, some get transmitted as fashion, advertisements even shape our thinking patterns and value systems.

We live in an era which preach consumption, consuming more means being more successful. Purchasing and owning more means more success. Ownership and consumption, those are the things which define us. What we own, in a way defines us, so we try to own better things more and more. Why do we try to earn more? Either to continue buying or to pay debts for the things we have already bought!

If everybody owns more things than really necessary and if every household is having more things which are not actually needed or not being meaningfully used, then it's obviously a big waste. More than that, it means we consume just for the sake of consuming as if we don't have any other meaningful goal in our lives. Do we live to buy that fancy car, own that big house and to use those handy gadget? Is there no other real purpose which drives us ?

Next problem is, can all of us (even if we have money) really own all those things we like? everything takes energy to get produced, every thing takes resources to get produced, only a part of those resources (if at all) get recycled back. While our craziness for owning things has no limits, resources the world has got to produce them, certainly has limits. Amount of waste the environment can absorb (generated by consumption) too certainly has limits.

The so called economical growth which drives from consumption is simply an impractical model to continue further. It is not that we have a dislike or a disagreement with the way current economies run, just that we will need something deeper and something more practical and sustainable in coming decades. Current systems may be ones evolved in last centuries and survived those times because they were suitable for those times where our ability to use up resources were too low to worry about. It is no longer the case now, will be no longer the case in future!

We need some new philosophy which help us not to run after accumulating things to be happy. Some new economical or social concepts/theories which produce more outlets to humans than just consumption.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that our own minds have accepted this as the reality and as the only (or main) worthwhile goal to pursue. So to make our minds happy and achieve that always illusive contentment, we are driven towards consuming more and more. If not by consuming, what else will motivate us ? What else can provide us with a drive to grow ? That raises an even more interesting question! What is growth really ? Is that the GDP ? Monthly salary we earn ? value of property we own ?

Going down the path of economic growth as defined in theories (produce more, consume more) is proving a dead end. All citizens of the world can not simply live as Americans do! Yes, even if everybody somehow manage to get 'rich', the world Eco system can not take additional vehicles on road, additional factories which require additional resources and emit additional CO2 and other waste, additional cutting down of forests to make way for additional houses, roads etc We have come to a place where we are using too much of world resources and emitting too much waste the world can take. A new practical philosophy is needed to take the world forward!

Can there be such a economy/society or a system which doesn't rely on people consuming more for it's own survival ?

I believe yes, there can be. Think about this.....

There are other goals, things we can achieve without owning physical goods. Things like having knowledge, enjoyment from sports, arts. literature etc, improving our minds whether it be mediation or positive thinking or any other psychological activity which help us feel good, feel important and makes us happy. Who says we have to earn more, spend more, buy more and own more to happy? That's the thinking advertisement has put in us for decades (for generations!)! and it's a myth! We don't necessarily need money, ownership and more things to be happy.

Is gaining more knowledge less important than owning a car ? Is improving our selves with better attitudes and mental qualities is not important than making our houses bigger ?  Is improving our brain capacities (to learn, to memorize, to analyze etc) not as important as buying things for our living rooms ? Improving our emotions and the way we react to things and compassion we can show to others, is that not as important as buying more expensive clothes to improve our outside appearances ? Is spending quality time with your family and friends inferior to spending time on increasing our spending capacity ?

There are so many better ways to enjoy the life and live happier and in a more meaningful manner without buying/owning/holding things. If that's the case whats the point of putting up a staggering amount of time on making money ? After all, the sole purpose of money is to increase our capacity to buy things. When we have more time we will be more able to appreciate the little things in life which we have missed all this time. We can make more friends, express ourselves more, love more, live more... Quality of life for the 21st century!

This could be a new philosophy which will guide this century. We simply do not need to consume more to be happier!! Sometimes letting go of things, be free from things is the best form of peace and happiness. That will be good for the environment too! Probably we will hear more and more about concepts such as Gross National Happiness

Does this mean going back to the stone age ? certainly not! Moving away from materialistic view open ways and new adventures for the mind and body. There are so much to achieve, so much to gain and so much to grow in the area of improving our own minds. We could foresee an intense competitive future where humans are driven passionately toward ever more challenging tasks for the mind and body, whether it be sports, self expression, arts, science, enhancing the IQ, improving attitudes, improving memory capacity and analytical thinking...

There is an endless world of possibilities, probably even more so and certainly much more satisfying and beneficial goals for us to achieve than just pursuing after material goods, stuff. Human mind is currently just trapped in a very limited materialistic world where it strive only about pursuing consumerist dreams. Imagine a world  where the human mind body and soul is unleashed and free to achieve it's true potential!

In the industrial age, we have transformed into a efficient societies which produces more and consume more, we proved ourselves as very good at it. Now that it's limitations are becoming obvious, isn't it any wonder that the next great age to come would be moving away from consumerism and pursuing goals of self growth, real happiness and advancements in mind and mental faculties? Pursuing happiness and greatness! In this sense arguments such as ones on socialism vs capitalism becomes outdated. All current economical systems and theories are for increasing production and increasing consumption. What we are discussing is a fundamental mental shift from that world.

Also, letting go of things is much more complicated than it sounds.... Sometimes you need the technology to make that feasible! How to get rid of bulkier things which need more resources and energy ? How to invent things which absorb human minds (which are no longer going after physical goods) and provide it with challenges and objectives to engage in with passion ? In fact, we will have a higher set of challenges for the technology which will have to play an even bigger role!

In a future post we will discuss the shape of those technological advances together with emerging trends, and wonder whether things are already moving in the direction they should be moving.....

PS : Services to Rescue the sequel of this post.