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Her New Slogan: 'Hybrid Thinking'

Marketing business owner likes her Prius so much she's buying a small fleet for her company

September 18, 2002|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Colette Brooks bought a Toyota Prius for herself this summer and liked it so much she bought two more, for the top assistants in her Culver City marketing business. Now she's planning to add three more to her 15-year-old company's first-ever corporate fleet.

Although a number of government agencies around the country have begun using hybrids for their employee car fleets, hybrid fleets for private businesses such as Brooks' Big Imagination Group are relatively rare. Toyota Motor Corp. and rival Honda Motor Co., which sells two hybrids in the U.S., say there might be a few others, but they don't know about them. The rental fleets of Los Angeles-based EV Rentals are the closest they can come to another commercial use of hybrids.

Ron Cogan, publisher of the Green Car Journal and a consultant to the auto industry on environmental issues, says he hasn't heard of other private hybrid fleets either.

But the car makers and "green" car enthusiasts such as Cogan say that as more and more business owners like Brooks discover the high-mileage, low-emissions gasoline-electric cars, their use as corporate cars should increase tremendously.

Brooks says driving a hybrid, which replaced a 3-year-old Volkswagen Eurovan as her daily transportation, has made her more environmentally aware and launched her on a new mission. She's refocusing her business a bit and now is aggressively pursuing "green" clients, she says.

Getting a Prius and discovering its benefits, she says, even inspired her to come up with a new slogan for her marketing business--"hybrid thinking."

Making the leap from a van to a Prius wasn't that difficult for Brooks, a 44-year-old who describes herself as a bit of an unconventional thinker, a dog lover and an avid surfer. "I drive from Malibu to Culver City every day, and I wanted efficient transportation that was big enough for my surfboard," she says. "We have six vehicles, and except for the [Subaru] Outback my husband drives, they are all gas guzzlers."

After shopping around she decided on the Prius because it seats five, gets upward of 50 miles per gallon--thanks to its small gasoline engine augmented by an electric motor--and is distinctive enough to tell others that she's driving something special.

Brooks says she also wanted to send a signal in the wake of the summer's corporate greed and corruption scandals that not every businessperson is all about spending money. "I've had BMWs and Mercedes-Benzes and Range Rovers," she says. "I wanted something responsible."

She quickly decided that she also wanted to share her newfound feeling of environmental and corporate responsibility, so she bought two more and gave them to her top assistants as "employee perks. Now we're going to get three more." Which will be six cars for a company with 10 employees.

To help drive home her respect for hybrids, Brooks designed and printed large vinyl graphics she applied to each Prius. "So What Drives You?" they ask others on the highway.

"It's a wonderful statement," Cogan says. "It is hard to find examples of hybrid use in the early stages of these cars, and this woman with her small fleet is a great statement all in itself. But when she wraps them in that slogan it really makes them stand out, so she's helping to elevate these vehicles in the public consciousness."

Brooks says her greening comes in part because of her love of the outdoors, but it has had some tangible payoffs as well.

"We did the figuring in-house and estimate that with just three cars we'll save the company $4,500 a year in fuel costs."

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John O'Dell writes about autos and the auto industry for Highway 1 and the Business Section. He can be reached at john.odell@latimes .com.

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