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.