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Thread: "Geek Chic" returns!

  1. #1
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    "Geek Chic" returns!

    Geeky cars are in - courtesy of $4 per gallon gas.

    Consider the blockbuster success of the ungainly-looking Toyota Prius hybrid. In some parts of the country, the wait for a new Prius is four months. Dealers are charging over MSRP "sticker" - and getting it. This, for a car that is as handsome as Abe Lincoln and slower than the horse he rode in on.

    One interesting aspect of the Prius' success is that it's blatant about being geeky - and this has clearly helped its sales success as much as its ability to get 40 mpg.

    Consider its performance relative to the functionally similar but much less obviously hybrid gas-electric Honda Civic sedan.

    The Prius has consistently outsold the Civic hybrid - often by a margin as stilted as two-to-one. Not many people even realize Honda still sells a hybrid version of the Civic. (When was the last time you recall seeing one?)

    Meanwhile, the Prius is everywhere in the way that IROC-Z Camaros were during the Reagan Era.

    Why the disparity?

    Both cars have tandem gas-electric powertrains that push the outer envelope of fuel efficiency to 50-60-mpg in city driving and about 40-mpg in combined city/highway driving. Both of them produce extremely low tailpipe emissions - just a notch more than a "zero emissions" electric car. As hybrid vehicles, both qualified their owners to use High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) carpool lanes ordinarily restricted to vehicles with two or even three people on board. As hybrids, both the Prius and the Civic hybrid also qualified for the (since rescinded) federal tax breaks enacted to encourage wider use of these low-polluting, high-mileage vehicles. They cost about the same - and if anything, the Civic hybrid would probably be cheaper because it's less trendy - which gives the edge to the buyer when it comes time to haggle over price.

    The difference that accounts for the tremendous success of the Prius on the one hand and the not-so-hot performance of the Civic hybrid on the other transcends the functional. Though earth-snuggling Planet People claim great virtuosity, the reality is that what drives the Prius, sales-wise, is not just the high-mileage spec sheet - but emotions ... what the car says about its owner.

    Just like any other car.

    What's interesting about this is the Prius - the first mass-market gas-electric hybrid - was initially written off as an ill-conceived "niche vehicle" - a model that would never break out of a small circle of hard-core techie types and cash-fat Hollywood enviro-liberals. It was too clunky and a bit too funky - from its unusual shape to its Battlestar Galactica digital dashboard and toggle-style shifter.

    The theory went that for hybrids to succeed as mass market vehicles, the automakers would have to make them look and drive just like other cars. "Transparency" was the industry watchword - and the Civic hybrid was designed to be that car.Looking at it, you'd never know it was anything more (or less) than a standard Civic; it was just another econo-box - albeit one that was more fuel-efficient than most. No one had to know about your planet-saving proclivities.

    But strangely enough, people - and not just geeks - preferred the Prius. It is by far the most successful hybrid vehicle on the road. And it is no stretch to argue that it got there by wearing its enviro-credentials on its sleeve.

    Art Spinella, a consultant withCNW Marketing Research, told The Washington Post that people buy the Prius because "it looks different. Other people know the driver is driving a hybrid vehicle." Note the last part of that statement: It looks like a hybrid - and other people know it.

    Form, as ever, remains as important as function

    The Prius buyer, in other words, is looking to make a statement - just like the guy in the blinged-out Cadillac Escalade or H2.

    It's just a different kind of statement.

    Apparently - and despite the conventional wisdom that Americans are a bunch of fatty greedheads who lust after domineering, flagrantly wastrel vehicles - a growing segment of the buying public clearly feels the opposite way.

    Smaller, less over-the-top vehicles may not need to be force-fed by the government to an unwilling public via gas taxes or heightened federal fuel efficiency standards. The public itself may be growing weary of $60,000 vehicles that aren't worth $40,000 two years later, get 16 mpg and ratchet up the stress of day-to-day living with needlessly complicated gadgets that make changing a radio station a multiplexed ordeal on the order of opening the doors of the Space Pinto for a low-orbit satellite repair.

    Not to mention those $80 weekly fill-ups.

    The Prius is the antithesis of what American car buyers are supposed to crave. It is homely, not ostentatious and efficient. And they crave it over the otherwise similar but more discrete about it Honda Civic hybrid precisely because it is unapologetically homely - and more to the point, blatantly "green."

    In the Civic hybrid, you're just another lemming in just another economy car, schlepping off to your day's drudgery. In the Prius, you're shaking your fist at The Man. You're broadcasting your views on the environment, on U.S. dependence on foreign oil.

    You're a geek - and you're proud!

  2. #2
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    Oddly enough, I've had a number of people ask me if my VW GTI is a hybrid. I guess it looks that geeky...

  3. #3
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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    The Prius isn't exactly an easy car to drive either. I rented one when I went to Tallahassee. I had trouble tuning the radio and had to shut off that stupid distracting gas mileage meter. When I did turn the damned thing back on, I found that my gas mileage was a whopping 35 mpg.

    That car is much ado about nothing.

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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry
    The Prius isn't exactly an easy car to drive either. I rented one when I went to Tallahassee. I had trouble tuning the radio and had to shut off that stupid distracting gas mileage meter. When I did turn the damned thing back on, I found that my gas mileage was a whopping 35 mpg.

    That car is much ado about nothing.
    What did it cost to rent? Which class did it fall into?

    And, did you get an Al Gore lapel button?

  5. #5
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    Quote Originally Posted by Henry
    The Prius isn't exactly an easy car to drive either. I rented one when I went to Tallahassee. I had trouble tuning the radio and had to shut off that stupid distracting gas mileage meter. When I did turn the damned thing back on, I found that my gas mileage was a whopping 35 mpg.

    That car is much ado about nothing.
    I agree; it's as over-rated (and over-hyped) as Tom Cruise!

  6. #6
    Senior Member misterdecibel's Avatar
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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    Without my glasses I thought this thread said "Greek Chick" and my immediate reaction was "Jesus, not another know-it-all high-maintenance chick..."

  7. #7
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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    I was expecting to see scantily clad smart girls....

    Chip H.
    ;D


    Former owner: 2012 Honda Civic LX, 2006 Honda Ridgeline RTL, 2000 Honda CR-V EX, 2003 MINI Cooper S, 1992 Honda Accord LX, 1999 Mercedes ML-320, 1995 VW Jetta GLX, 1991 Mercury Capri XR2, 1981 Mercury Zephyr, 1975 Chevrolet Impala

  8. #8
    Vulture of The Western World Eric's Avatar
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    Re: "Geek Chic" returns!

    Quote Originally Posted by misterdecibel
    Without my glasses I thought this thread said "Greek Chick" and my immediate reaction was "Jesus, not another know-it-all high-maintenance chick..."
    Bada-bing!

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