Stars take hybrid cars to the red carpet

By LISA PICKOFF-WHITE  |  Feb. 27, 2005 at 12:48 PM
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WASHINGTON, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Forget the limo, Hollywood stars are taking low emission, Toyota Prius hybrids to the 2005 Academy Awards Sunday as part of Global Green's campaign to raise awareness of environmentally friendly vehicles.

About 15 celebrities including Gwenyth Paltrow, Natalie Portman, Scarlett Johanson, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robin Williams, Orlando Bloom, Salma Hayek, Charlize Theron, Penelope Cruz, Morgan Freeman, Julie Delpy and Tim Robbins are all pulling up to the red carpet in hybrid cars.

This is the third year Global Green, the American branch of Green Cross International run by Mikhail Gorbachev, asked celebrities to use their status to help the environmental cause.

"Hybrid cars help us conserve natural resources and preserve the planet. Choosing a hybrid is something everyone can do today to help reduce our negative impact on the environment," Bloom said. "People can choose to change the way they drive to help reduce our impact on the environment."

The Prius, which came out in Japan in 1997, uses a power split device that hooks the gasoline engine, generator and electric motor together so that the car can run on electricity, gas or both.

The car only uses the electric motor for accelerations, keeping down gas emissions. Once the car reaches 40 mph, the gas engine turns on. At highway speeds the car uses a combination of gas and electricity. The Prius gets 51 miles per gallon on the highway and 60 during city driving.

It is considered the third "greenest" car available in the United States by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and produces 90 percent less emissions than the average car, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

By contrast, limos often get only 12 miles per gallon while driving in cities.

"By foregoing gas-guzzling limos, Oscar attendees show their support for fuel efficient cars to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, reduce air pollution and stem climate change," said Matt Petersen, president of Global Green. "By choosing to ride in a fuel-efficient car, like the Prius, they send a strong message to the American people and the world that we can all be part of the solution to global warming and our addiction to oil."

Global Green decided to use the Prius because Toyota offered to lend them out for the night, Peterson said. Also, they are the most well known of the hybrids.

"Celebrities want to get involved," Petersen said. "This year we even had some celebrity publicity offices call to see if they could get a hybrid."

Both DiCaprio and Hayek drive hybrid cars normally.

"With global warming threatening us all, driving a fuel efficient car like a hybrid is something that everybody can do to protect our planet. I am proud to do my part. I personally own and drive a hybrid car. And I love it!" Hayek said.

Petersen feels the cars are raising awareness.

"We want people to know you can be environmentally friendly and still drive a sexy car," he said.

Watching celebrities get out of small green cars is a visible symbol that you can be environmentally friendly and "cool" at the same time, Petersen said.

"We want people getting into any energy efficient car, whether it's a hybrid or not," Petersen said.

On Thursday night, celebrities such as DiCaprio and others hosted a 600-person pre-Oscar party where they drafted a letter to President George W. Bush asking him to keep environmental energy concerns in mind.

Petersen first had the idea when America was considering a war with Iraq three years ago, he said.

"We wanted to send a message about energy solutions. It was a way to educate the public on how to reduce our dependency on oil," he said.

Limo companies around Hollywood are catching on to the trend as well. EVO Limo offers a Chevy Suburban, an SUV limousine, that runs on natural gas. Both Cameron Diaz and Woody Harrelson are clients of the service.

Hybrid sales are also on the increase. Prius sales alone are up about 106 percent from last year. More than 5,500 were sold during January.

Switching to more efficient cars or light trucks saves the consumer as well as the environment, according to ACEEE's Policy Director Bill Prindle.

"If new car and light truck buyers chose the most efficient vehicles in each size class, we would slash the 2005 fleet's gasoline use by 27 percent, reducing gasoline purchases by $6.1 billion and saving the average buyer $360 a year," Prindle said. "Even omitting hybrid vehicles, those numbers still add up to 19 percent, $4.1 billion, and $245 a year, respectively."

Car manufacturers are also getting in on the act. Ford offered the first SUV hybrid, the Escape, this year. The SUV gets 31 miles per gallon during highway driving.

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