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Green thumb, yes. Green car? Depends how you define it
Gardening expert drives a Volvo S60 sedan in the belief it's more environmentally friendly than a hybrid

April 2, 2009

He is Canada's gardening guru. You've likely seen him on Canada AM, heard him on Newstalk 1010 CFRB or read his countless best-selling gardening books.

Mark Cullen has deep roots in the horticultural business. He loves the land and is an environmentalist at heart. But on the streets, he doesn't drive a hybrid. He has a 2003 Volvo S60 sedan, which he describes as "the most environmentally responsible car on the road - hybrids are not."

"I'm not a big fan of hybrids. Number one, environmentally, there's a huge cost to building a hybrid car. Number 2, nobody has told me yet what they're going to do with the dead batteries - that's a concern to me.

"And I'm a highway driver, so a hybrid doesn't have the economical advantages to me as it would to an urban driver."

The Volvo, on the other hand, is a greener choice, according to Cullen.

"Volvo will tell you that 85 per cent of a Volvo car is recyclable and 95 per cent of it is recoverable. ...

"They say the factory where they build Volvos in Gothenburg uses 69 per cent of the energy consumption of its competitors. They use 100 vegetable-based components in the car and they use cotton for sound absorption, which is renewable," he reiterates from notes taken off the Volvo website.

The S60 is Cullen's fifth Volvo.

"Our Volvo adventure started in the early 1990s when my wife bought her first Volvo [Cross Country] wagon. We have four kids so we went through four Chrysler minivans when she finally said, 'I'm minivan-ed out! I want something different.' So we went shopping.

"Safety was the No. 1 priority for her at the time because she was still dragging kids around in the car. We ended up at Volvo and we absolutely loved the car," says Cullen, who is embarking on two cross-country tours this spring - one to promote his 18th book, The Canadian Garden Primer: An Organic Approach, and the other for Home Hardware, where he's a horticultural adviser.

He then bought a Volvo S40, followed by his used 2003 S60. "My Saab [9-5] died three years ago and I thought, 'Gee, Mary is so happy with her Volvo. I'm going to look at them.' And then I saw this S60 and thought, 'This is the car for me.'

"It's reliable, steady and it's safe. I think today they've got a little style. All right, it's not a BMW, but it has got an understated classiness about it. When you look it up on the Internet, they classify it as near-luxury. I like that - near-luxury suits me."

"I'm happy with the smaller engine, too. I save a little money on gas, it's better for the environment, and that five-cylinder is a very clean-burning engine. I get 9.2 L/100 km, which is good for that size car," says the best-selling author, with more than 400,000 books in print in Canada.

Cullen's teenage son has also jumped on the Volvo bandwagon. He bought two vintage Volvos, which he tinkers with and drives on the 10-acre family farm in Stouffville, Ont., north of Toronto.

Cullen, too, loves classic cars. He owns a 1930 Model A sedan, a 1931 Model A quarter-ton pickup truck, and a 1946 11/2-ton GMC army/farm truck.

"I'm not a gear-head, but I love the stories that cars tell. ... Every time I get into my Model A sedan, I think about the generations of people that have driven this car, ridden in this car, have gotten enjoyment from it. There's a smell in a classic car that's really quite unique."

"The first car I ever bought was a used '69 Datsun 510 lunchbox. It was $800. I bought it because it was cheap and it would get me around. When you're 19 years old, you just want to go from A to B. ...

"What a great car. If it wouldn't start because the battery would die, I'd just get somebody to push it and I'd pop the clutch and it'd start. I did that a lot," laughs Cullen, who is an honorary patron of SHARE Agricultural Foundation, which provides relief to underprivileged farmers in developing countries.

Cullen has also owned many Detroit Three cars, including a 1974 Ford Mustang, a 1979 Chevrolet Monte Carlo, a Chevrolet Cavalier wagon and a Pontiac Bonneville.

"My father had very strong feelings about buying domestic. He didn't care which of the Big Three, but he personally was a great fan of keeping jobs in Canada. He felt every time he bought a North American car he was doing something for the North American economy. To buy a car from any other part of the world was a bit of an insult.

"You can tell he influenced me for a long time and then I kind of broke loose in the 1990s when I bought our first Volvo. The fact that it was controlled by Ford helped. I could look him in the eye and say, 'Well, dad, it's owned by Ford, so what do you want?' "

Cullen plans to keep the Volvo until it reaches 200,000 kilometres. Right now, it has 160,000 km on it. "If I can get it to 200,000, I don't feel that they owe me anything after that.

"I do want a car I can rely on. I know people will drive cars much beyond that - but I say God bless them - let them have it," he laughs.
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