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Can the Prius Replace the Town Car?

Are limousine liberals really willing to get in the backseat of a battery-powered Toyota? Graydon Carter says ‘sure’—if only they had more legroom.

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Roo Rogers, left, with his hybrid chauffeurs.  

Last week, New York became home to OZOcar, the city's first car service with an all-hybrid fleet. “It’s ironic that in New York, where you can get anything you want whenever you want, all the car services have basically been the same,” says Roo Rogers, a co-founder of the service, which launched last week with 30 Toyota Priuses and expects to have a total of 76 hybrids by mid-December. Its rates are competitive—it’s a $60 fare from Manhattan to JFK. Think of it as a street-level analogue to the corporate trend of “green buildings” (see: Bank of America’s new tower, which recycles rainwater for the toilets). A Prius gets 60 mpg, compared with the Town Car’s profligate 18.

Rogers, who previously produced a documentary series for BBC about “individuals who are making a difference,” started the service with Jordan Harris, who, as a board member of the nonprofit Global Green USA, helped get Harrison Ford and Cameron Diaz to take Priuses to the Oscars. OZOcar is likewise striving for an image of eco-conscious glamour and luxury, outfitting the fleet with Sirius satellite radios, iBooks, and high-speed Internet.

OZOcar’s devotion to hybrids places it well outside the limo mainstream. “My only concern is whether this is going to fly with the corporate sector,” says Victor Dizengoff, executive director of the Black Car Assistance Corporation, the industry trade association, explaining the zero hybrids currently in use. “They’ve gotten used to sitting in the back of a Town Car.” Take former mayor Ed Koch, who leases a Town Car for those times when his law firm isn’t paying for his ride. “Sure, there will be some resistance,” says Koch, who has never ridden in a Prius. “I’m sure we’ll look into it sooner or later, and I’ll encourage that.” Others worry that the Prius, with two and a half fewer inches in the backseat and almost five fewer cubic square feet in the trunk than a Town Car, is too small. “I would use it in a heartbeat,” says Vanity Fair editor and amateur energy-policy pundit Graydon Carter (who takes a Lincoln Navigator daily to his office in the “green” Condé Nast building). “Size is a problem, though. I would prefer a slightly larger car.” Jeff Rose, owner of the car service Attitude New York, is “looking very closely” at other, roomier hybrids (some of which will also be joining OZOcar’s fleet), but concludes, “A Prius is not an appropriate car for four passengers and lots of luggage.”


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