The actual distance is obstacle number one. Cargo is number two. And family vehicle use is obstacle number three.
Mom has a 2005 Prius, so I could do my driving in one of the most fuel efficient vehicles out there. It's actually a pretty good cargo vehicle, too, for its size: I could fit the company's large and small chop-saws plus a table-saw and miscellaneous other, all at once, and good size lengths of wood, too.
If I knew I'd need to haul something big I could drive Mom's Chevrolet Silverado 1500, which has a huge bed.
We'd already decided, between the three drivers among us, that the person driving the furthest would use the most fuel efficient vehicle. Usually that's me on my 60 mile daily trip. But sometimes Mom goes up to visit her second grandchild (and his family) up in Michigan, so then I drive the truck and Margo is left with two boys and no realistic way to get anywhere.
We decided to start looking at options for a third vehicle and considered motorcycles first, as fuel efficiency was our first priority. Unfortunately, the most fuel efficient cycles are the smaller ones, up to around 250 cc. Over that, say 600 cc, and the efficiency drops to around 50-60 mpg. Not worth it for the risk, lack of cargo space, etc.
To make a long (though fun) story short, we found what remains the most fuel-efficient fossil-fuel powered car that ever made it into mass production - the Honda Insight, first generation. The EPA rating of the 2000 model (which we found) is 61 mpg city, 70 mpg highway. Wow!
Looking around for not all that long, we found that the closest one for sale was up in Kalamazoo, where both Margo's sister and my sister live. It had one owner and a great record of service, so we went up to test it and decide for sure. In the end we bought it, and I have been enjoying it ever since.
As far as fuel efficiency, it started out around 52 mpg for the first few weeks, which was driving it in the winter at approximately 70-75 mph to and from work (I'm often starting out late, but I like to arrive on time). When the weather warmed a little and I decided to try leaving a little earlier so I could drive 65 mph my efficiency shot up at least 10 mpg. And that's awesome, because it means I only fill up every two weeks or so (every ~600 miles) and only burn a gallon of gas every workday. If I drove the 15 mpg truck to work, like my coworkers do, I would be burning 4 times as much gas, paying 4 times as much money. Instead of buying about $31 worth of gas every two weeks I'd be paying $124. Wow! And it's better than the Prius, too.
Every car benefits from a good name, and I settled on The Streak, wanting something that vaguely implied "fast" without outright fabrication. I think of the Ray Stevens song every time I drive it. Mom gave it an alter-ego, Zippy, which more seriously blurs the line between truth and falsehood. It really does feel zippy, as a 5-speed two-seater hugging the ground.
In fact its only downside is that it is not a fast car (with its 1.0 liter, 3-cylinder engine), having been designed with efficiency in mind in every feature. But it is incredible to me that this, the first gas/electric hybrid that came onto the North American market, remains at the top in terms of MPG. Not only has no other car achieved this fuel efficiency in the past 13 years, but Honda quit producing this one after 2006. They redesigned it for 2010, with the newer model a four-door instead of two, five-seat instead of two, and rated at 41/44 MPG city/highway. You got to give the people what they want, I guess.