Prius Popularity Powered by Vanity

What’s the number one reason for the success of the Toyota Prius? According to a new survey by CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore., owners said, “It makes a statement about me.”

More than half of the respondents cited self-righteousness and smugness about their green credentials—far outnumbering those who chose higher fuel economy, lower emissions, styling or other factors such as tax incentives. The survey formed the backbone of a front-page article that ran in the New York Times on July 4, 2007. In the article, one owner is quoted: “I really want people to know that I care about the environment.”

This is not the first attribution of smugness applied to hybrid drivers. In an episode of Comedy Central’s South Park’s entitled "Smug Alert," which first aired on Comedy Central on Mar. 29, 2006, one of the main characters persuades all the citizens of South Park to buy hybrid cars. The new hybrid drivers quickly begin to feel way too good about their environmental efforts, speaking with their eyes closed, and repeatedly telling each other, “Good for you.” Disaster ensues when the smugness emanating from South Park’s hybrid drivers combines with a cloud of smug from the general population of San Francisco and another from George Clooney’s 2006 Oscar acceptance speech.

According to the CNW survey, the hybrid smug cloud is—in reality—on the rise. The number of Prius drivers who selected “Makes a statement about me” in early 2007 was 57 percent—a significant gain from the 34 percent of Prius owners who gave that response to a CNW survey in early 2004. The New York Times article did not mention the total number of respondents or describe the methodology of the CNW survey.

CNW recently made headlines throughout the country by issuing an update of a study which claims that the total lifetime energy cost of a Hummer H3 is lower than the cost of a Toyota Prius or Honda Civic Hybrid.

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  • Eric

    This article made me laugh a little. I have a hard time with Spin-ella and CNW “Research”.

  • Smugly Avenged

    Hmmm. Where I live, I expected heaps of scorn to be heaved at me for the Prius buy, so vanity wasn’t really a part of it. My expectations were well met. Then the one-two-punch of Iraq and Katrina hit, gas prices went through the roof virtually overnight, and pretty much stayed there. Now the haters mostly b!tch about how much it costs to fill their gas-guzzling American Land Yachts. Of course, none of them have quite been able to stomach the double-serving of crow it would take to admit I made the right move. But oh, how I laaaaaaugh. Yeah, maybe I’m pretty smug…now, after patiently suffering the “rice-burning golf cart” jokes in silence. Originally, all I wanted to do was be a good greenie, and to blazes with what other people thought. But now it’s personal. And I’m loving it.

  • Jerry

    When we buy cars it does say something about ourselves. Is there something wrong when that statement says “I care about the environment.”

    Personally I will purchase Hybrid version of the Camry or Alitma. It says I care but no one will notice since its looks like every other car out there. I know and that is all that matters.

    When someone buys a mercedes its a statement that they are willing to spend alot for their car maybe they have some cash or alot of debt.

    The CNW report is a piece of trash and a waste of paper. I wonder if they factored that into their assessment

  • Jeff

    When I find myself getting smug I immediately get embarrassed. Having only owned a Prius for 4 months I am still figuring out how to feel. Ultimately reliable public transportation should be everyone’s goal. If we all lived within walking or cycling distance to our work place cars would be of little necessity. I purchased a Prius for the fuel economy and feel good about reducing emissions. While the CNW Hummer comparison is so full of Ass-U-Me ptions that it is disgusting it does show that the Prius is not without its own environmental down side.

    My greatest source of pleasure related to owning a Prius comes from answering questions about the vehicle when I give someone new a ride in it. They ask about plugging it in and where the generator, electric motor and gas engine all sit. Once I explain that the electric motor is also the generator and that the gas engine and electric motor work together to both power the vehicle and charge the battery they begin to understand and seem more likely to consider owning one. I say be smug internally but be humble too. Lead by example and do not alienate others by acting like your any better then they are, because you aren’t.

  • Indigo

    You’d better believe I feel smug driving my Civic Hybrid. When I see the jokers in my neighborhood fill up twice a week and I fill up twice a month, I know that owning a hybrid is the 45MPG gift that keeps on giving!

  • Randal

    Smugly Avenged, if you feel the need to call people who don’t drive a Prius “haters”, you have emotional issues that go way beyond smugness.

  • Jeff


    Just what I am talking, why act smug? You get OK milage and are doing what you feel you can but if you really want to be green ride a bike instead. At 45 mpg you are still about 10 mpg behind a lot of Prius owners. So you must not be doing all you can to conserve fuel.

  • rocknerd

    Cars are all about image. Virtually no one buys a car without considering what it “says” about them. Regardless of the type of car, they are too entagled in our lives to not say something about the driver. Be it flashy sports cars, the H2 or a prius, most people select a vehicle that they feel fits their personality. You could repeat this “study” with any make of car and get similar results.

  • Hal Howell

    Smug??? No. Smart??? Yes. Everyone makes choices and considering the price of gas I made a choice that I think is smart for me. Would I like to drive a Hummer H2 SUT??? You bet I would, but I can’t afford said SUT and so considering what would be good to drive under MY current situation I chose the Prius and a yaris liftback as our second car. Both get great mileage and are well made.

  • Dan Peed

    As someone else pointed out, whatever kind of car you drive says something about you. I am not sure what my 2002 Prius says about me, but I do know it gets 45 m.p.g. in city traffic, and it’s the most dependable car I’ve ever had – no repair costs at all, after more than 5 years ownership.

  • Smugly Avenged


    If you actually read my post, you’d understand that I refer to some people as “haters” because they “hated on” my Prius, calling it, among other things a “rice-burning golf cart”. Had these people kept their scorn to themselves, I’d have no problem with them.

  • Christine

    As everyone has mentioned, whether you own a Corvette, Hummer, or a hybrid it says something about you as a person. I bought my Honda Insight about 4 years ago because of my commute and I couldn’t be happier. I have currently been getting right around 64mpg and for the life of the car it’s at 59.7, not too shabby.

  • Tony

    The car you drive says something about you only to idiots who believe things like “Virtually no one buys a car without considering what it “says” about them.”

    Only people who court the favorable opinions of idiots consider what a car “says” about them when they buy it.

    And if you are the type to consider first and foremost what your car says about you before you buy it, then I fear you have gotten the short end of the stick, because according to a survey I saw recently, 60% of hybrid owners are Republicans.

  • richard

    it’s a statement for insecure people who need a car for validation much in the way the big pickup truck guy’s gets the macho boost

  • Randal

    Smugly Avenged, there are a lot of people out there now who will call someone a “hater” for simply disagreeing with them. But if you have people who truly hate you (not just give you a hard time) because you drive a Prius, well, I’m sorry because I had no idea such people existed. I’ve driven small Japanese or German cars as long as I’ve been driving, and most of the negative comments I hear about cars nowadays are directed at SUV drivers, and as much because of their aggressive driving habits as fuel economy. [Do Prius owners have passive-aggressive driving habits? :-)]

    I have a friend who drives a gas-guzzling truck, but because he is able to work at home, his fuel costs per week are less than mine even though I drive a small car. Who has the right to be smug in that case? I think if someone can work at home, walk, bike, or take public transportation, they probably have a right to be smug. Since my commute is mostly interstate I believe a diesel would likely get me better mileage than a hybrid. I think it has to do more with an individual’s particular situation and less about a particular technology.

  • Aaron

    2004 Honda Civic Hybrid owner here. Other than a few differences here and there, my hybrid looks similar to a non-hybrid Civic. Consider it a “Stealth Hybrid”

    I just want to save on fuel and enjoy awesome technology…but without making a statement or calling attention to myself.

  • Gerald Shields

    Well hell yeah! These folks show up at a gas station about once or twice a month!

  • Frank

    Hybrids say something about the owner. These people polled may think that their status is the reason they bought their hybrid, but inevitably it comes back to the fact that they care about things other than how fast or big their car is. They care about the environment, gas mileage and sensibility. Few people are going to pay the extra cost to pretend to care. When I’m driving in my Prius and I see someone in a HCH or Escape, I’m just glad to see that there are other people that care. They don’t have to be as obvious, but it shows.

  • Victor Barreto

    I believe that the main reason for the success of the Prius is that it gives the middle finger to the entire auto industry.

    For decades the auto industry has tried to show its products as the ultimate in technology and presented concept cars at autoshows that were just pipe dreams, all to get us interested in their particular product and sell us the same old piece of s#@$ power train. The high tech ideas were never meant to be more than bait.

    The Prius is the first pipe dream technology in 100 years that became a real car. Owning one says ,”Put your money were your mouth is.”

  • minerval

    regardless what you drive – hybrid or not, you have to make sure you can afford the cost of ownership.

    You can not blame the guy next to you who choose traditional gas engine vehicle over hybird, but look into the reality, he may only be able to afford the gas sucker Chevy without starving his family and have a vehicle to take him to work.

    Until hybrid makers can truly drive down the price, it will be a while before “hybrid every where”.

  • Smugly Avenged

    “Smugly Avenged, there are a lot of people out there now who will call someone a “hater” for simply disagreeing with them. “

    That’s interesting. It’s also completely irrelevant to what I said. You seem to be trying to make a point, but what it has to do with me I haven’t a clue.

    “I have a friend who drives a gas-guzzling truck, but because he is able to work at home, his fuel costs per week are less than mine even though I drive a small car.”

    That’s nice. Why are you telling me this?

    “Since my commute is mostly interstate I believe a diesel would likely get me better mileage than a hybrid.”

    Well, you’ve obviously given this a lot of thought. Why you’re ostensibly sharing these thoughts as a response to my comment is not at all clear. Are you debating with me the virtues of a hybrid over a diesel? If so, what has that to do with what I said? How are your friend’s driving habits at all related to my statement? Why would your general impressions of “haters” be considered germane to my story, or of interest to me in particular? Actually, why are you even posting on this topic? You seem to have something you want to say, but dropping your points at random on unrelated conversations is an odd way of sharing.

  • michael a.

    If you take the TOTAL ownership costs of a hybrid car into account (including less depreciation and maintaince), the “premium” for a hybrid car is very small compared to a SIMILAR vehicle. (See for yourself! Go to the “Hybrid Buying Guide” on this website and see “Myths” and “Payback Periods”)

    The idea that buying a hybrid would require “starving your family” is silly and a syptom of irrational conservative Idiotology.

  • Randal

    Smugly Avenged, now I see why people hate you. It has nothing to do with your Prius.

  • Smugly Avenged

    Yeah, I keep dragging the conversation back to something remotely related to the topic at hand, instead of letting them get away with random spouting of irrelevancies that derive from their deep-seated and compulsive need to change the subject to how inferior hybrids are to other modes of transportation, or something along those lines. I’m sure it must be incredibly irritating to have to confront how tedious they really are head on.

  • rocknerd

    “The car you drive says something about you only to idiots who believe things like “Virtually no one buys a car without considering what it “says” about them.””

    Tony, why are you calling me an idiot? I didn’t say it was considered “first and foremost”. Skewing words and name calling only show that you have little worthwile to say.

  • Grimey

    What does it say about people who want a hybrid that “doesn’t look like a hybrid”, anyway? What is there to be ashamed of I am wondering?

    Franky I like the hybrids that are designed from the ground up to be hybrids as opposed to the ones that are jimmied out of existing vehicles. That’s just me personally.

    And yes, all cars say something about their owners, even those asinine Hummers with the asinine giant chrome wheels… sure it’s your right to drive whatever you want, but please, get real…

    And I love this one: “he may only be able to afford the gas sucker Chevy without starving his family and have a vehicle to take him to work.”

    Sure, I feel bad … they can “only afford” the $40,000 truck with the 4″ lift kit, at 10 mpg at best. Sure they can “only afford” the Chevy Cobalt SS or the Ford Focus ZXR or the other pieces of junk coming from Detroit. Maybe they can “only afford” the $80,000 Escalade.

    Smug… give me a break. As if hybrid drivers should feel at all ashamed when these other morons are driving around industral sized tanks as commuters and junky “souped-up” Detroit crud mobiles.

  • Carlos

    If I buy a “full-size” pickup it’s okay for me to want people to know I’m a macho dude. If I buy a BMW or a Lexus it’s okay for me to want others to know I’m proud of having lots of money to throw around. That’s all “normal”. So why is someone who would like people to know they care about the environment singled out as “vain”?

  • 1964Hybrid

    I drive a Hybrid that has been around longer than most of your fancy cars. It is a 1964 Buick with a Chevy motor. It gets 25mpg highway. It isn’t made of plastic so when it’s unusable it will just rust away instead of ending up in a landfill. And it has so little plastic it doesn’t pollute by gassing out of all that plastic bodywork and interior. It also doesn’t carry loads of batteries containing toxic metals that will end up in the water supply. It’s manufacturing environmental impact has already been “paid”. It is recycling an old car into something useable instead of having to create another car just so you can drive something new.
    I do the maintenance
    I don’t have to smog it. Although I keep it highly tuned.
    It can be repaired with parts out of a junkyard. Recycling Again!
    Insurance is cheap.
    For these reasons it is much cheaper to own than a Fancy New Hybrid. I just wish they had a smug bumper sticker with a clever sarcastic saying expressing just how I feel about you hybrid drivers.

  • The Auto Buzz

    Personally, I beg to disagree since I buy cars based on practicality. I know my friends from The Auto Buzz would disagree with me. Heehee.

  • ted

    I think its funny that people think that driving an ugly car is going to save the world! That south Park episode is 110% TRUE

  • calvin

    South Park is funny at times, but they often rely on red herrings rather than facts/logic to drive their polemics. One of the biggest things I dislike about the program is that it promotes the attitude that being apathetic is cool and anyone who cares about the environment/society or is otherwise passionate about something is lame–not all that surprising though considering that the program is aimed at apathetic teenagers and college stoners. It’s the polemical equivalent of style over substance.

    While I don’t doubt that some people out there buy Priuses to be seen as environmentally aware, that’s unlikely to be the case for most drivers. After all, it was the first mass-produced hybrid on the market (thus also the most well-known) in the U.S., and it still has the highest fuel economy rating. That by itself is enough to attract a lot of buyers.

    Nevermind the fact that CNW is a marketing company (I trust true scientists over the word of spin doctors), and that they also claimed that the hummer is more environmentally friendly because H2 drivers will drive their cars further in their lifetime.

    They’re essentially the John Stossel of “automotive research”. They seek out contrarian positions because it generates publicity. It’s sad that people will give these exposed sophists press just because of the base novelty of inversion. It is even more disturbing that such a large segment of the population buys into it without any thought. And so long as this holds, we’ll continue to see companies like these claiming that: charity is immoral; pollution is good; up is down; down is up; war is peace; freedom is slavery; etc., etc.

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