AS I type, Judge Thokozile Masipa has just handed down sentence in the Oscar Pistorius trial. The sentence — effectively five years in jail — will inevitably cause a chronic bout of what my favourite blog calls "indignation dysentery".

I have reacted to the news by switching off the social media and quietly thanking our lucky stars that we don’t have trial by jury, let alone trial by Twitter. The shameless way in which people have managed to hijack the matter as a vehicle for their varied and many agendas has been breathtaking.

Judge Masipa, however, like most High Court judges I have watched in action, has been magnificent: steely, uninterested in the considerable noise and focused on trying to deliver that most hard to define of ideas — humane justice. Whereas South African Twitter makes you want to emigrate, Judge Masipa makes you proud to be here — and the proof of the pudding will, I suppose, ultimately present itself in a lack of appeals from defence or prosecution. Time will tell.

Much bile will now be vomited forth. They will tell us, variously, that Oscar’s wealth, race, gender, disability and privilege resulted in the sentence. People will be furious on news aggregation websites and in the egregious comments sections on popular websites.

Our reaction to it will tell us about our national psyche, the state of the nation, no doubt. How white people react will give us chilling insight into the state of white SA, I am sure. I expect that people will continue to use the rise and fall of Oscar Pistorius as an intolerably threadbare metaphor for a nation struggling to find its way.

And so I will leave them to their collectivist nonsense. Instead, I would like to show you a picture of a cat. Well, that’s what they’d do on the internet, but seeing as this is an intelligent newspaper I thought I might ignore it (almost) completely and instead talk about the future of the car in a world awash with cheap oil.

The thing is that over the past year or so I’ve been driving a lot of hybrids and I have, in that time, invoked my long-standing disclaimer that I reserve the right to change my mind. Years ago I described the Toyota Prius as "hateful". These days I am seriously considering buying one — and this transformation, Toyota tells me, is in line with the hybrid owner’s experience.

Given that our currency means we’ll never return to the days of R4/l but might see some relief in prices anyway, I’m beginning to see the answer to motoring life in a two-car household to be a hybrid urban runaround — a Prius or a Yaris — and then, for the long road and for the resident petrolhead, a stonking V8 or, if you prefer, a fat V6 diesel.

Put simply, those who drive them love them.

The reason? I have three kids, two of whom go to school. I work a job several kilometres from home. So my weekdays are punctuated with urban pottering. I fetch and carry and then I head to the office and then I fetch and carry and then I go get that one from her ballet class and then I go back to the office and then I go to the shops and then I go home. In four months in a Prius my average speed was 25km/h and my average fuel consumption about 5.5l/100km. Nothing of the Prius’s size and comfort can come close to it.

It’s an interesting time in the energy world. Oil prices have hovered at about $80 for a while, which means they don’t have too far to fall before they start to pressurise American shale operations, which will feel the squeeze from about $70.

The Saudis have shown no sign of pushing Opec into limiting production in order to bolster prices either, which means one of two things: they might be happy to burn a little of their (really quite enormous) $750-billion cash reserves and allow the price to fall in order to put competition in the US, Russia, Iran and Venezuela out of business, which would limit the industry’s scale. Alternatively, they may have simply lost control of the market.

There may be volatility for a bit, but in the long run we’ve now entered a (long predicted, if you were listening to the right people) era of plentiful, cheap oil. What does this mean for hybrids? They will always have appeal with the environmentally inclined, but for people like me who just loved the way they were so cheap to run at $110 a barrel, will declining prices mean I look elsewhere?

I suspect not. Our currency is in such a state — and vulnerable to further decline — that the effect of declining oil prices won’t be felt as keenly at the pumps. South Africans will feel only limited oil price relief. But it’s not only enduring high prices that make me think that the hybrid will live on. The fact is, I’ve become used to filling up the car once a month and I really quite like it.

And so the motor industry’s focus on fuel efficiency will continue to benefit us here in SA. I’ve also been driving a hybrid Lexus ES300h, an enormous family sedan that we’ve just loved for being spacious and comfortable, and for using just 6.6l/100km. If R550 000 is a bit rich, new entry-level cars such as the Renault Sandero, with its 900cc turbo-charged three-cylinder, offer stunning consumption numbers from R123 000 brand new. It’s all good stuff.

Given that our currency means we’ll never return to the days of R4/l but might see some relief in prices anyway, I’m beginning to see the answer to motoring life in a two-car household to be a hybrid urban runaround — a Prius or a Yaris — and then, for the long road and for the resident petrolhead, a stonking V8 or, if you prefer, a fat V6 diesel.

Oil and internal combustion will be around for decades — and to me that’s a good thing. The surge in US shale oil production has illustrated once again a truth the environmentalist left likes to pretend doesn’t exist — in practical terms, energy reserves are infinite. "Peak oil" was a scaremongering scam. But none of this means I enjoy setting fire to R100 notes. If I get a thrill in return, then that’s fine. But there are no thrills at 25km/h — and that’s why the hybrid car is here to stay. Where’s the nearest Toyota showroom?

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Wed Dec 07 14:25:54 SAST 2016

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