Sometimes it seems Paul McCartney can't win for losing.
The former Beatle has long been an outspoken advocate of environmental causes and animal rights. He is a vegetarian who won't even wear leather shoes. But now he's being criticized for having a hybrid Japanese car flown to him in Britain rather than having it sent by ship.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The car in question is an $158,000 Lexus LS 600h, a luxury sedan that offers both high performance and a reassuring "green" patina because it uses a hybrid system that relies on an electric motor at low speeds.
Best of all, it was to be a gift from the Lexus car company, which sponsored McCartney's 2005 tour of the United States.
But environmentalists quickly pointed out that the use of a cargo plane to deliver the car to England completely offset any environmental gains resulting from the car's use.
"It's like driving the car 300 times around the world," says Gary Rumbold, the director of the British branch of co2balance, which helps businesses and individuals gauge their carbon emissions footprint. "It seems like somebody at Lexus made an error in judgment. They wanted to get something to McCartney promptly, but it backfired. They should have waited a few weeks and sent it by ship."
He said it would have been far less damaging to the environment in terms of carbon emitted into the atmosphere to have shipped the car by sea because so much more cargo can be fitted on a ship than in the cargo hold of a jet.
Rumbold also questioned whether a high performance car such as the LS Lexus 600h — with a powerful 1.3-gallon V-8 engine and a top speed of 155 mph — is actually the best use of promising hybrid technology.
It was not clear if McCartney knew the vehicle would be sent to him via air freight rather than by ship. Rumbold said it seems likely the singer was an innocent victim of a mistake made by Lexus executives.
McCartney's spokesman, Stuart Bell, confirmed that the musician had received the car as a gift and that it had been flown to Britain, but said he could not comment about the decision to use a plane until he had all the details.
David Crouch, a spokesman for Lexus in Britain, said the company also would not comment on the McCartney car delivery.
He did say the LS 600h is a top-of-the-line hybrid designed to compete against the expensive Mercedes S Class and BMW 7 Series since its introduction in Britain late last year. Some 227 have been sold despite the starting price, which rises quickly when more options are added, he said.
"It's selling very well," he said. "You have a gasoline engine which works in conjunction with an electric motor. What it means is the car can run on either power source. At lower speeds it runs on electric power so there is no fuel consumption and no emissions, and if you need higher speeds, the petrol works with the electric motor to give you what you need."
McCartney has had an unusually close relationship with Lexus in recent years. In addition to the sponsorship deal, the ex-Beatle — who shies away from product endorsements — has publicly praised Lexus for producing environmentally sensitive cars.
The carmaker also produced a one-of-a-kind McCartney-themed hybrid SUV that was sold off to benefit an anti-landmine charity favored by McCartney and gave one of his recent CD releases a special spot on the company's Web site.