CURWOOD: In these days of high gasoline prices, the Japanese hybrid cars that get 50 miles to the gallon might sound pretty appealing. But the tiny production runs so far make it difficult to get behind the wheel of one. US automakers are proceeding with research and development, but not all believe they'll be able to sell a lot of these vehicles. Gloria Bergquist from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says most new hybrid owners fit in the category of early adopters.
BERGQUEST: And those are the people who want to be the first on their block with the latest and who are very proud of it and who talk it up to all of their friends, until it becomes more familiar. That's the market that they're really tapping into right now and eventually as word circulates, more folks are going to be interested in these vehicles.
CURWOOD: Gas mileage is just one part of the current debate playing out in corporate boardrooms, Capitol Hill corridors and in places where the final choices are made--America's kitchens. Let's listen in now on one family at home on New England's beloved Lake Woe-Be-Us.
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PRESIDENT BUSH: Some think that conservation means doing without. That does not have to be the case.
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SUE: Here you go, Bob. Sunday paper, morning coffee.
BOB: Hey, Sue, know what I've been thinking?
SUE: Uh -- Red Sox need you as a closing pitcher?
BOB: Nah, nah, nah. We need a new car.
SUE: Oh. But the Toyota is still running fine.
BOB: It's old. It's ugly. It's totally rusted out. You can't even get a magnet to stick to it. I mean, look at this ad. Magnum power SUVs, $200 over dealer invoice.
SUE: Oh, but Bob, an SUV? What about the mileage? Gas is pushing two dollars a gallon.
BOB: Mileage? They've got huge gas tanks. You could get 300, 400 miles between fill-ups.
SUE: That's not what I mean. Look at this headline: "Energy Crisis Mandates Conservation."
BOB: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the White House says conservation is not the answer. They say we've got to drill more wells up in Alaska, build more refineries.
SUE: Oh, right. Ruin the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with drilling rigs just so Bob can drive his fat SUV around town like some old geezer? Is that Bob's energy policy?
BOB: Even the White House says we have to preserve the American way of life.
SUE: Oh, yeah, where the U.S. consumes a quarter of the world's oil but has only about five percent of its population?
BOB: Don't try to trick me with numbers!
SUE: They're facts, Bob.
BOB: Besides, they're going to raise the SUV mileage efficiency standards. What is it, that -- oh yeah, the coffee thing.
SUE: No, it's CAFE. It says here they'll reclassify SUVs from trucks to cars and require them to be more fuel efficient. That's going to take years to implement, and in the meantime I will not be caught dead in a gas-guzzling SUV!
BOB: Why not? SUVs are a whole lot safer than those itsy-bitsy economy jobbies.
SUE: Economy. Now you're talking. Hey, let me see those car ads.
BOB: Okay, but I will not ride in a car with bigger miles per gallon number than its top speed number.
SUE: Hey, look at this. A hybrid that runs on electricity and gas. It averages 50 miles per gallon, and it even comes in -- lavender!
BOB: Lavender. Oh my god. Yeah, sure, 50 miles a gallon, probably 40 miles an hour top speed. That's exactly what I mean.
SUE: Yeah, me, too. Exactly.
BOB: I don't want a car I need a shoehorn to get into.
SUE: You can lose weight.
BOB: Sue --
BOB: Sue --
SUE: Give up beer and chips.
BOB: Sue, cut it out! Give me back that auto section!
SUE: No. I'm going down to check these out. Let's see. Evergreen Auto, where we care about the environment…
BOB: (Sighs) What have I started here? Oh, my. Where's the sports section? Damn. The Red Sox lost. They do need me as a closing pitcher. Hey, Sue! Can you get me a beer and some chips? Sue? Sue?...
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CURWOOD: The Lake Woe-Be-Us Players are Liz Bulkley national senior editor at Public Interactive in Boston, and Russ Thibeault, an economist and president of Applied Economic Research in Laconia, New Hampshire.
Coming up: The secret life of young lobsters. First, this environmental health note from Diane Toomey.
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