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Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Imp-erfect Vehicle

I always thought that the Corvette came with the factory-installed tags "hyped" and "overpriced". However, this hasn't kept car enthusiasts from buying them over the years. Yet, now the same words applied to the Prius and other hybrids hold a different cachet altogether, resulting in a new kind of snobbishness (or a return to the snobbishness not seen since the latter half of the 70's). Phila expounds on this topic:1
So aside from the higher production cost translating into a higher sale price, we're basically talking here about market skimming, a common practice in which new products are targeted at affluent early adopters, who give the vehicle a sense of desirability that then drives demand in less affluent markets. In this strategy, supply is generally supposed to fall short of demand.

This has been SOP for the automotive industry for a long, long time, and anyone who writes about cars for a living knows it. But for some reason, hybrid cars often trigger an aggrieved deconstruction of marketing orthodoxies that usually get a free pass. Indeed, I've consistently noticed that hybrid vehicles are more likely to be portrayed in the media as "hyped" and "overpriced" than conventional vehicles with worse gas mileage and higher sticker prices. And in the case of the Prius, I've noticed a persistent refusal to acknowledge that it has other unique features and design elements that would arguably justify a premium price even if it weren't a hybrid.
The backlash has really begun. For yucks let me relay what the two lead radio wingnuts say about the Prius.
Michael SavageWeiner
(paraphrasing) Hybrid means half-and-half. Driving a hybrid car means you are driving half a car. This makes you half a man.

Hugh "Spew Spewitt" Hewitt
(paraphrasing) I'm ticked because they are going to let Prius owners drive in the carpool lanes on LA freeways as a way to do social engineering. That's not what the carpools are designed for! Waaah, sob, mwa, mwa, sob.
However, until I stop riding the trusty old bike, I don't think I can get too energized promoting the Prius. Whatever the cost/energy advantages of the Prius, I can easily beat it via a bicycle commuting trade-off study. I realize the road bike has many deficiencies, including the obvious safety issues. But heck if people don't get 'afeared from even the thought of getting crushed inside some types of compact cars. So seeing as you can get crushed either by bicycle and now this one-seater, I can easily take a secondary liking to the VW 1-Litre-Car. Proud be not my name. I can feel as dorky as I want.

1 Phila also mentioned that out LA way, 41 miles round-trip may account for a low-end of many of the long commutes. Having just recently heard talk on the subject via the local progressive Air America affiliate, I double-checked that yes indeed one of the ex-urbs around here has a majority of the citizens commuting long distances daily (65% commute outside of the area and 54% drive 30 miles or more round-trip).


Professor Blogger Phila said...

I have mixed emotions about hybrids myself. Still, it drives me nuts when people feel the need to overstate their shortcomings. But then, if they addressed the real problems with hybrids, they'd have to address the real problems with the oil industry, the auto industry, suburbia, neoliberal economics, classical economics, conservative politics, mainstream liberal politics...and so on.

10:53 PM  
Professor Blogger Engineer-Poet said...

A car that's quieter, runs its A/C at full speed even when the engine is at idle (or even with the engine off), has superior power steering, can run many kilowatts of electrical loads... is a better car no matter how you cut it.

You're right, it is ironic to condemn the Prius for its distinctive shape and high-mileage characteristics while implicitly being attracted to Corvettes (or Dodge trucks) for their style, power or bulk.  And hypocritical.

I'm happy to let people have all the power and bulk they want, as long as they're willing to pay the full freight for the fuel it requires.  $6/gallon?  That might be low a few years from now.  If they decide that it makes more sense to build batteries into their big truck's floor pan and run on a combination of wind, coal and nukes than to buy Middle East oil, that's fine too.

11:25 AM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Corvette should get a few points for hitting 28 mpg highway (EPA), that's better than a lot of pefromance cars.

As far as hybrids, my peeve is that the media treats them as a block, even though they've split into at least three categories: economy hyrbids, performance hybrids, and hybrid SUVs.

I only count the Toyota Prius, the Honda Insight, and the Honda Civic Hybrid in the economy hybrid category.

I bought a base model Prius for $22K or so and like it quite a lot. It is certainly possible to spend more, with all the bells and whistles a luxury equipped Prius can run around $30K. You probably could look at that extra $8K as "market skimming" ... but like every time you walk into a car dealership, it's up to you if you want to get skinned.

The bottom line for me is that the average new car in the US sells for $26K. That makes the Prius a low-to-average priced car, that just happens to get great mileage. The same goes for the Civic hybrid, and even morso for the Insight.

1:40 PM  
Professor Blogger @whut said...

You need 2 Corvette two-seaters to carry around a family of 4, making it equivalent to a SUV in that case :)

4:40 PM  
Professor Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fuel is the adrenaline of any car, truck or engine. Thus, it is every vehicle owner's wish to enhance the fuel of their car and save more of it as well. With this in mind, the most innovative fuel-saving tool in the automotive industry was conceptualized and created: the Tornado Fuel saver. An automotive air channeling tool that creates a swirling air motion, the Tornado Fuel Saver allows the air to move in a faster and more efficient way by whirling air around corners and bends. Hence, more fuel is saved.

4:51 AM  

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