About a decade ago, when I was living in a city with incredible public transportation, we made an uncomfortable decision to lease a car. We had a baby and were having trouble visiting grandparents using ride share companies like ZipCar; their fleet was frequently unavailable.
I did the research on the eco- and wallet-friendliest option. Hands down, the answer was a Prius. When we found a used one with low mileage (it had been a rental car for one year), we pounced.
I’m not much of a consumer; I don’t care about the latest electronics and loathe planned obsolescence. I work to educate people on being conscious consumers so I was surprised to find myself genuinely enjoying our Prius, especially as a native New Yorker with little experience with cars. It was red and cute and I liked what it signified to other people. To my surprise, I got a kick out of messaging my “greenness” just by driving down the street. So many of the lifestyle choices I make are invisible. This was a way to be loud and proud…and to nod knowingly at other Prius drivers in parking lots. I was in with Larry David, who originally drove one on his HBO show. A Prius meant something!
Ten years and four Priuses later (including two Prius Vs, which I dubbed my “mommy Prius” or “Mius,” because they’re big enough to shuttle around playdates and groceries, and you can actually see out the back window), the knowing nod has become something else entirely.
Last week, Toyota, in the worst kind of greenwashing, joined with other automakers in an effort to dangerously weaken their responsibilities to develop clean cars — and to fight the strong standards in California and thirteen other states.
Partnering with Trump in working to dismantle the Clean Air Act, possibly the most important—and bipartisan!—public health law we have in America is reprehensible political pandering. To say I’m pissed off is an understatement.
Don’t get me wrong: I never thought a car company was actually fully sustainable. I’m not that naive. Toyota is not a leader—no matter how efficient one type of car might be because it’s holding back strong climate pollution policy for everyone. Prius was just one of several better-for-the-Earth options, but there is no such thing as a good for the Earth car. But still. I feel betrayed.
I don’t want to be associated with Toyota. My only options as a consumer are to sign petitions, spread the word, and to vote with my dollars, so I’m researching electric cars with enough battery range to get my family where we need to go. Considering new materials and manufacturing, I would prefer to buy used. I can’t choose a Bolt; GM is also siding with Trump. So is Fiat Chrysler. And I’m skittish; who is to say I can trust any car company long term? I’m certainly more drawn to the companies taking a stand against Trump on greenhouse gas emission standards: Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW.
Some friends in the know are keeping their Priuses. We already own them and the mileage continues to be good. But if one should fail, none of us would replace with a new Prius at this point. No one wants to purchase from these automakers unless they reverse paths. We’re already witnessing the knowing eco-nods I enjoyed are shifting to smug comments. More than a few people who never wanted to drive a Prius in the first place are asking me if I know Toyota is in bed with Trump.
My hope is there will be enough pushback from Prius drivers that Toyota will reverse their greedy financial decision. But I’m not holding my breath. We are already in a climate crisis. And this ruling, if they truly get their way, will make our air harder to breathe.