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In a ( Hybrid Automobiles ) recent column, I told you about the new hybrid automobiles which are starting to appear throughout the United States. Two companies manufacture them now, Honda and Toyota, and I questioned whether the United States auto manufacturers would enter this environmentally significant market.

"Hybrid" means part traditional gas powered, and part battery powered -- but with no need to "plug in." These cars get great gas mileage and reduce harmful auto emissions. I had an opportunity to speak with Jane Galletto of Cumberland County, New Jersey . A true environmentalist from the relatively rural South Jersey, she was raised in the heavily congested Bergen County area of New Jersey, which is near New York.

Galletto has been environmentally conscious for quite some time. She's a member of the Audubon Society of New Jersey and she chaired the endangered species program at the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. She is also the President of a local watershed organization.

Late last year, Jane purchased the Toyota Prius. She ordered it around August of 2000, and it took several months to be delivered. She took possession of it in December of 2000, and, in a word, she loves it.

What does Jane love the most? Well, she loves just about everything. But the she loves its color most. She tells me that it is an aqua color. Not exactly the color that she wanted, which would have been a darker blue. But rather an aqua which seems to change colors depending on the kind of lighting outside.

Jane also reports that she loves the car's performance. According to Jane the car has extraordinary pickup. She says that the car picks up just as well as basically any domestic vehicle. She says it does not compare with a sports car, but then most American cars do not either. This is significant because many people have been concerned that these hybrid cars, which are part electric and part gas, would not have that kind of pickup. They do. The Prius can really move. According to Jane, the car "handles very well". It "corners around bends", "and it is excellent in the snow.

Also, there is a question of how much trunk size a car like this provides. Jane reports that it offers a tremendous amount of trunk capacity. She recently placed three large airport carry-on bags, another larger bag, a gym bag and a tool bag in the trunk. Jane loves the storage and she is very satisfied with the Prius's capacity.

Here is the thing that people care about the most, I suspect: gas mileage. Jane has been getting 47 miles per gallon. She assumes that under even better circumstances she could probably get about 55 miles to the gallon. That is extraordinary. And with gas prices continuing to rise, this might be the biggest headline concerning this car. It simply gets extraordinary gas mileage.

Under certain circumstances the car cruises with no motor at all. The car operates in different modes. Sometimes just the gas engine runs. Sometimes just the electric motor runs. Sometimes nothing runs.

And a computer screen inside the car tells you what kind of energy you are getting (battery or gas generated) and where it is coming from. Jane says that after a while, you learn how to use the car efficiently.

What doesn't Jane like? Jane doesn't like the fact that the car does not have cruise control. She looks forward to a time when the car will have cruise control. But, overall Jane loves the car and she would highly recommend it to other people.

Jane believes that there will be more introductions of similar cars, including SUVs. Jane also looks forward to a time when even newer technologies will be introduced, such as cars that operate on hydrogen, where only oxygen is released into the environment .

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