My pal Justin bought a new Toyota Prius a few weeks ago. He lucked onto an unsold one that was in transit to the dealer - in a color he liked, with the options he wanted. He did not hesitate to place his deposit. Two weeks, and the car was his.
He's been paying attention since he got it, incidentally; he says the waiting list is months long at this point.
Justin had personal reservations about buying that Prius. He'd always owned cars of distinction, often European cars. He thinks of himself (accurately) as young at heart, perhaps a bit sporty, and involved in driving as a skill. He's not a driving gloves and tweed cap kinda guy, but if he'd bought something like an Audi TT sports roadster, he could be that kinda guy, I suspect.
So the Prius seemed to Justin to be a boring choice. It was surely slow, clumsy handling and smallish inside. Okay, they get great gas mileage, but is there any sparkle in the driving experience? Is it fun?
But Justin's wife suggested they drive a Prius. Justin went along with it. Remarkably, the car won him over. She was already convinced.
At this point, Justin has filled the tank once. He got 47mpg from that first tankful, and he loves that damn car. He sees folks at the pumps as he drives by the stations. He can't believe how lucky he is to own the Prius - and how foolish they seem to have bought gas guzzlers when they could have bought a car like his. It is curious, isn't it?
Shortly after he bought the car, he took me for a ride in it. He has the GPS and the rear-view camera. It's roomy inside and beyond quiet. It doesn't feel like an econo-box or whatever cheap sedans are called these days. I was impressed - at 47mpg.
I have bragged to several people about Justin's new car, about the mileage and silence and smoothness...and about how it didn't cost a mint to buy. Most everyone has a car, so I figure they're interested in cars on some level, especially about a car that makes the most of a four dollar gallon of fuel.
I noted a reluctance to believe what I'd say about that car. Oh, it doesn't really go 47 miles on a gallon of gas. Oh, it must be tiny inside. Oh, it probably won't pass crash tests. Oh, it won't be much use in the mountains at altitude; doesn't have any power. Stuff like that.
I mentioned that resistance on people's part to believe in the Prius. Justin said that since he's owned the car he's noted that same skepticism from several people he's talked to about it. He'd been skeptical himself, sure that a Prius was going to be irritatingly lackluster, but he's driven his hundreds of miles now, and he's converted.
Why the skepticism? Justin and I talked about it over breakfast this morning on our club bicycle ride. We think it's code. It's what people say when they can't say what they really think. They think the Prius is sexless, that it won't say about them what they want a car to say. That they're double-oh-seven or Sharon Stone or Indiana Goddamn Jones.
We talked about the difference between the thing itself, the steak - and the image of the thing, the sizzle, say. In the US...and maybe elsewhere...sizzle sells cars. Maybe sizzle, sex appeal, sells everything. The thing itself is somewhat secondary. Think Mustang.
The Prius is not sexy. Economy, especially in reaction to inflated gas prices, is not sexy. Justin says that Toyota hardly advertises them. People find their way to Toyota stores nevertheless and many of them purchase those unsexy Priuses. And have to defend their choices. Imagine.
This is all turned around, right? So cheap and transparent.
Let's say we have to drive. Many of us do. Maybe somehow we're identified by what we drive. People think, ooh he's got a Whatever; whatta star he-or-she must be.
If driving a Prius makes a statement, it's a statement I wouldn't mind having made about me. I'd love cruising past gas stations and I wouldn't be crushed if the car failed to get me laid. I count on my aftershave to provide that sort of action anyway. And my Harley-Davidson.