In May, we told you about the first round of Toyota's Prius Plug-In MPG Challenge. If you missed it and don't feel like clicking through to read the magnificently written article, here are the high points:

  • Toyota loaned 2013 Prius Plug-Ins to a handful of nonprofits for 30 days.
  • The nonprofits used those vehicles to carry out programs, zip off to board meetings, run errands -- whatever they needed to do to fulfill their various missions.
  • Organizations promised to put at least 75 miles on the odometer each week and travel at least 500 miles in the Prius over the course of the month. 
  • After the 30 days were up, Toyota gave $2,500 to the nonprofit that had earned the highest average fuel economy. The next two runners-up received $1,000 and $500, respectively, and every organization that participated took home a $200 gas card.
  • And because this was more about advertising than philanthropy, Toyota expected each participating nonprofit to document its travels in the Prius Plug-In on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

Still with us? Good.

The first-round winner was the Helping Hands Food Pantry, a New Jersey-based organization that delivers free groceries to those in need. When the contest's 30 days were up, Helping Hands staffers had driven 506 miles in their Prius Plug-In and earned a whopping 356 MPGe. (According to Toyota, that's 261 MPGe higher than the Prius Plug-In's official fuel economy in EV mode.)

Now, Toyota's competition is moving to round two, and the contestants this go-round are a little different -- not so much charities as "eco-savvy influencers" (Toyota's term, not ours). Translation: they're bloggers.

According to a press release, the list of participants currently includes:

  • EcoKaren, a chiropractor-turned-green-living-consultant and blogger focused on the connection between the environment and health
  • Green Living Guy, author and editor of the “Green Guru” series
  • New York Green Advocate, a blog authored by environmental activist Paul McGinniss focused around the latest news about the world environment, sustainable living, renewable energy and green building

Apart from that, the challenge remains largely the same, though Toyota did dial down the 30-day travel requirement from 500 to 300 miles. The winning blogger won't receive prize money herself, but Toyota will gift that amount to the charity of her choice.  

Our take? We really want to dislike this program. Currying favor from influencers is fine -- companies do that every day. But adding a charitable element just to draw attention to the campaign? Somehow, that cheapens the whole thing. 

And it's made doubly cheap by the fairly minor prizes, which, when added up, couldn't even buy a new Prius Plug-In.

On the other hand, Toyota has a long history of philanthropy. The automaker contributed huge sums to recovery efforts after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, 2012's Hurricane Sandy, and this year's tornadoes that ravaged Oklahoma. Since this MPG Challenge is funded by marketing dollars, rather than funds from the Toyota Foundation, maybe we'll give the company a pass this time.


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