July 21, 2008

Toyota Prius

The funny thing about the fashionable Toyota Prius is that it would get good gas mileage even it weren't a hybrid. It has a very aerodynamic shape that provides a reasonable amount of interior room. Take out the weight added by the battery and electric motor, but keep things like the modest 0-60 acceleration, the use of aluminum rather than steel in places, and the real time miles per gallon gauge and you'd still have an efficient economy car. (And since the Prius has been built in Japan rather than America, you'd get Lexus-quality factory workmanship.)

But nobody would buy it. After all, the Prius is very similar in shape (just smaller) to perhaps the most unfashionable car of the decade, the Pontiac Aztek (introduced in 2001, now discontinued). The picture above is of an Aztek, not a Prius.

Conversely, nobody gets very excited over the Honda Civic Hybrid, because it doesn't look like you're saving the world by driving it. It just looks like you're some loser who can only afford a Civic. In contrast, when you are driving a Prius, everybody can instantly recognize it's a hybrid.

Basically, people choose cars to advertise themselves on the mating market. That's fine, I've got no problem with that ... except for the tens of millions of car-buyers who aren't supposed to be on the mating market because they're already married. Consider all the soccer moms who refused to buy aerodynamic minivans because they're too mom-shaped. Instead, they bought squared-off SUVs, which get much worse mileage than minivans of similar capacity, because they felt they made them look sexier.

So, you have to give Toyota a lot of credit for figuring out how to trick us knuckleheaded Americans into wanting to eat our vegetables.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

19 comments:

Grumpy Old Man said...

Actually, a lot of women, especially short ones, buy pickups and the like so they can stand tall and look tough.

Has to do with power, not sex. Where have I heard that one before?

Jon Fersen said...

Do Toyota's Japanese plants actually produce more reliable cars than their American plants? I think that a lot of people would assume that, but American cars have had a major upswing in the last several years. Ford won the J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality award in 5 different product segments last year, more than any other manufacturer.

Also the Lexus is a luxury car which means that, in addition to it's fancy upholstery, it most likely has better components, tighter tolerances in it's machining and superior base materials compared to a regular Toyota. I wouldn't expect the same level of workmanship on an economy model like an IC version of the Prius that I would from a Lexus.

Anonymous said...

Steve, outside of CA, what car you drive is a lot less important to people.

Anonymous said...

Wrong, at least in metropolitan New York and some areas of California. Owning the Prius or Civic hybrid will allow you to drive in the HOV lane on the Long Island Expressway, thus saving about 1 hour per day (much more on occasion, since most catastrophic accidents occur in the general travel lanes, due to trucks)for a round trip from Suffolk County to the Bronx or Queens. Also, the Prius can drive on only the electric motor for fairly long stretches at low speeds.Workmanship? More than a few American Car mechanics have admitted to me that Japanese cars are better.

Anonymous said...

All that technology to get roughly the same mileage as a 1990 Geo Metro.........

Anonymous said...

You are missing the point, or one of them. The Prius's mileage in a high traffic, bumper to bumper situation, in particular, is much better than any vehicle I have driven, including motorcycles (assuming you don't take your life in your hands by splitting lanes, that is...keep in mind that drivers in Metro NY and New Jersey frequently swerve from lane to lane without signalling). In heavy traffic urban areas (think the Cross Island Parkway at 6:00 p.m., where I have actually been passed by people jogging on the nearby promenade)the Prius has real value. The other criticisms of the Prius(complexity, high sticker price, and the expense of replacing the battery) are perfectly valid.

Anonymous said...

As for the reliability of American cars, I'm still driving my Dad's 1958 Plymouth and I've put about 25 dollars worth of parts in it in the last 25 years. Ditto his 1960 New Yorker as well. I expect that both of them will outlive me. The Plymouth will carry a 4 by 8 foot sheet of plywood in its trunk. The New Yorker will carry an 8 foot Christmas tree in the trunk with the lid closed. I can buy an awful lot of gasoline for what I've saved on not buying new cars! Put the saved money in the bank and it will keep on buying gasoline forever.

Kurt

headache said...

"Instead, they bought squared-off SUVs, which get much worse mileage than minivans of similar capacity, because they felt they made them look sexier."

Womenz are perpetually on the mating market.

headache said...

Geez, I live in Germany and because I don't want to be dependent on the bank have decided I cannot afford a car. So I take the tram. What does that make me?

ben tillman said...

I live in Dallas. I have never seen a Prius.

Ronduck said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

For those of you who don't live in the United States, be aware that the above situation is not possible in the United States except maybe in the biggest cities. Unfortunately the country just isn't laid out with that kind of infrastructure and it would be an insurmountable task to build that kind of system up here now.

On the other hand, SASOL in South Africa makes gasoline and diesel fuel from coal at a break even point of about 25 dollars a barrel for crude oil. If WE had brains, we could do that here too since we have an enormous supply of coal. ( Sorry, I'm an engineer, NOT an eco-freak! )

Kurt

Anonymous said...

Steve, outside of CA, what car you drive is a lot less important to people.

Outside of New York City, where the working class and even the "working rich" eschew cars, I think this statement is malarkey. America's obsession with cars as status symbols and as conspicuous consumption goes back a long way.

anonymous(2) said...

anonymous is wrong about Priuses (Prii?) getting better gas mileage in city than motorcycles. Test results from groups like Consumer Reports confirm that a Prius gets about 44-45 mpg in typical around-town driving.

Most motorcycles less than 1000cc do better than that.

Some of them a LOT better.

Anonymous said...

I drive a newish mercedes e 500. a friend of mine when over seas and left me his prius for 2 months. A lot more people looked at me in the prius than the pig car.

when people give me a hard time about driving a car that will do 180 mph i remind them that i live 3 miles from where i work. nothing makes me chuckle more than environmentalists that commute 100 miles a day to work.

Blode said...

Your points are always fascinating, Steve, but when I read them I want to repeat them. And my friends roll my eyes because I can offer no proof. What should I do?

Truth said...

"Most of Toyota's plants in the US are in areas that are 10% Black or less and usually the plants have a workforce that is 1% Black."

Well that's strange. Toyota has 13 US auto plants and the majority are located in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Coincidently enough those are three of the blackest states in the union. (the smaller plants are in San Antonio and Kentucky.) As fare as Toyota having a black workforce of less than 1%, I have been unable to find anything that suggests that this is true. If you have a link please supply it.

The UAW is nearly 30% black because the the auto plants needed these workers after WWII. There was no affirmative action or preference policy fifty years ago, and Detroit does not have so many blacks (nor Milwaukee or Chicago) because of the balmy weather.

As to the assertion that the US auto companies make crappy cars because of blacks working the line. Well, these blacks were highly underpaid in that case because they must have spent their off hours conceiving and designing poorly working, gas-guzzling mechanically unreliable and inefficient cars. What were the whit R&D staffs doing at this time? playing golf?

David Davenport said...

Toyota has 13 US auto plants and the majority are located in Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. Coincidently enough those are three of the blackest states in the union.

That's not true, Truth. Toyota has no factory in TN., nor is Tennessee one of the three blackest states, either in absolute numbers or in percentage of the population.

Yeah, TN sure is blacker than the Dakotas or Vermont or etc.

Nissan does have a large factory -- nonunion -- on the outskirts of Nashville, and Nissan's North American HQ recently moved from the Gardena section of "greater" L.A. to the suburbs of Nashville.

Would you label that white flight or Japanese flight?

GM also has its Saturn factory near Nashville, and Volkswagen recently announced that VW will build a plant in Chattanooga. Whether the VW works will be unionized remains to be seen. The Saturn factory is U.A.W.

On the other hand, SASOL in South Africa makes gasoline and diesel fuel from coal at a break even point of about 25 dollars a barrel for crude oil.

That sounds too good to be true. Do you have any evidence for that?

David Davenport said...

A Google search on "toyota factories usa" reveals:

Main article: Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America

The Toyota Camry is assembled in several facilities around the world including Australia, China (PRC and ROC), Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Russia, Thailand, and the United States.Toyota Motor North America headquarters is located in New York City and operates at a holding company level in North America. Its manufacturing headquarters is located in Hebron, Kentucky, and is known as Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America, or TEMA.

Toyota has a large presence in the United States with five major assembly plants in Huntsville, Alabama; Georgetown, Kentucky; Princeton, Indiana; San Antonio, Texas; Buffalo, West Virginia; and a new one being built in Blue Springs, Mississippi. Toyota also has a joint-venture operation with General Motors at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), in Fremont, California, which began in 1984, and with Subaru at Subaru of Indiana Automotive, Inc. (SIA), in Lafayette, Indiana, which started in 2006. Production on a new manufacturing plant in Tupelo, Mississippi is scheduled for completion in 2010; it will be producing the Toyota Highlander. North America is a major automobile market for Toyota. In these assembly plants, the Toyota Camry and the 2007 Toyota Tundra are manufactured, among others.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota#Toyota_North_America