Daily Podcast: Prius Profiling

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago

We here at TTAC have gone out of our way not to characterize Toyota Prius owners as left-leaning tree-hugging pompous, uh, people. As the Toyota gas – electric hybrid's gone mainstream– sales north of 50k per month– we've taken pains (pains I tell you) to point out that its success is down to the fact that the Prius is a well-built, practical car that makes economic sense. And then I get this press release from Scarborough Research (fayre enough?) that boldly declares "Hybrid Vehicle Owners are Wealthy, Active, Educated and Overwhelmingly Democratic." [Fair disclosure: I've been personally overwhelmed by more than a few Democrats at dinner parties.] It gets worse/better. Thirty-three percent of hybrid owners belong to a health club (as opposed to 18 percent of the generally obese population). They're sixty-six percent more likely to have gone biking in the last year and twice as likely to practice yoga. They're also twice as likely as the average Joe to hold a college degree. Some 27 percent of Prius owners hold a post-grad degree. Forty-two percent of them have household incomes above $100k per year. All of which raises an interesting question: if the Prius appeals to such wealthy, active, socially conscious people, why did sales take off when Toyota lowered the price? Cheap, rich AND smug? What's that all about?

Robert Farago
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  • Jon Jon on Dec 08, 2007

    As far as I can tell, people don't drive more or less because they buy a Prius. The miles they drive are just cheaper -- personally and for the earth. The wonder of the car is that it is extremely efficient and yet doesn't compromise at all on what buyers in its market segment expect in a car -- unlike the Accord Hybrid, which wasn't particularly more efficient, or the Insight, which was a big compromise. It isn't tiny, it isn't unreliable, it isn't a stripped down box on wheels, it isn't unsafe, etc. It really is a case of having your cake and eating it, too. It is this that makes Prius buyers smug; not a holier-than-thou attitude, but rather a "holy sh*t I can't believe I got away with this" attitude. The bottom line on hybrid technology is that it's an increase in efficiency. It captures otherwise wasted energy. It can complement any other fuel source -- it isn't either/or with diesel or bio-diesel or hydrogen or whatever fuel gets you stoked. It just makes it more efficient. I just can't wrap my head around why people are opposed to efficiency. My depression-era parents, the "Greatest Generation," sure could have appreciated it. When did waste become a virtue? And when did an appreciation for innovative engineering make someone a hippy? I thought hippies wanted to live in tee-pees eating raw vegetables they picked by hand out back. Jeez, we're in for it as a country when technological improvements are scorned as a political heresy. Let's just empty our wallets now and hand over the contents to folks who still believe in what we used to: anything that does it better is better. I've never seen a car hated so much for being so good. A fascinating psychological profile of our nation. A real ink-blot test, the Prius is.

  • UnclePete UnclePete on Dec 08, 2007

    My Prius is my commuter car (I drive around 80 miles a day). I tend to drive 75-80 on the highway, and even with the snow tires on it now, I am still getting about 45mpg, which helps the commuting bills (I get 48 or so in the summer). I've owned the car for 1 year and it has had 0 problems. It shares the driveway with a Jeep, a Pontiac GTO and an Olds Alero. I tend to be a little right of center, work for a defense contractor, drink beer, don't go to the gym, and even drive this car to the gun club without anyone making a crack. Even though it is not a great long-distance driver due to the ergonomics (I drove from NH to the Upper Peninsula for vacation), it has enough room for my teenagers and I. These things are moving to the mainstream; there are a lot less hippy tree-huggers by percentage owning them now. Time for the stereotype to retire.

  • Steven Lang Steven Lang on Dec 08, 2007

    I agree. The demographics of the Prius though are extremely strong. Most auto comapnies would give plenty to have the clientele this model generates. If I weren't in the industry and constantly shifting cars, the Prius would be in my top five. I've always had a couple of enthusiast oriented vehicles that I bought and sold on the side. But the Prius would be a great fit for my family. We only do two or three road trips during the year, and the rest of the time it's mostly in-town driving. I also have a VERY weak spot for hatchbacks. Then again, I would probably opt for a 100k+ Prius that already had it's battery replaced and was well maintained. I actually bought a 2001 model for $6500 last year that had been taken to the dealer every 3k and had a new battery pack. I sold it for $8700 on Ebay, and the fellow who bought it was a very happy camper. The idea of keeping a car is anathema to the fact that I make money on switching the wife's car out whenever there is a willing buyer. She's probably had 20 minivans, 15 sedans and 12 wagons this year alone. For the intown non-enthusiast driver that plans on keeping their car for 12 to 15 years, the Prius may be the best new car buy out there. A Civic, Corolla, or Mazda 3 may also be worth a look as well. As for the TDI, I liked them more 10 years ago when you could get a Passat Wagon and a 5-speed with it. If VW saw fit to provide their powertrains with a longer warranty, it may be worth considering.

  • Glenn126 Glenn126 on Dec 10, 2007

    Hello and good-bye to all my "electronic friends" out there, I've truly enjoyed our auto-oriented intellectual wranglings and discussions. Upon opening "Lexus" this weekend (thankfully I was not at work at the time), I took prayerful reflection and now have to remove myself from participation and viewing of TTAC. We're doing a college-level Bible study and just completed the books of Amos and Hosea, in which these two prophets forsaw the doom of Israel and Judah due to their lifestyles. What can I say but such "turned into oneselves" lifestyle is self-centered instead of centered on God/service of others, and identical to today's Western Civilization (I'm using the word euphamistically, of course). I'll close with: "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Phil. 4:8 (RSV) A Mennonite website explains: "Christians are called to be separate from the evil in the world. Our nonconformity does not mean that we withdraw from all contact with those outside the church. Rather, our way of thinking is changed, and we avoid sinful behavior and participation in groups which promote sin." "See Rom. 12:2" "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Rom. 12:2.