I’m the first to say that I don’t actually know a whole lot about cars. And a good bulk of what I do know, particularly when it comes to makes and models, I’ve learned over the past couple of months as I’ve been abstractly car shopping. But while I don’t know much, I know that the Toyota Prius is one ugly car. Not even a little bit off, as a lot of cars are. Rather, it is the ugliest car on the road today. And, of course, one of the most popular.

So the question arises as to why they created a car that I find so unattractive. I can think of a handful of possible reasons for this.

  • I’m wrong, it’s not ugly. Or rather, my tastes are unusual and I am one of the few people that do not like the car design. I don’t think that this is so because it is ugly in a very distinct sort of way. But maybe it’s not that unique (see below) or if it is unique, it’s just different. There’s no accounting for taste, I suppose.
  • I’m wrong, it’s not unique. It’s not a design that other manufacturers are replicating (with one notable exception). Were it part of a larger trend, I’d be bemoaning the trend rather than the Prius itself. On the other hand, it’s not that distinct. And it does tie in a little bit with a recent trend of what I can extended-butt cars. Sometimes I think that this works, as with the PT Cruiser (one of the nicest looking cars, in my opinion), but mostly it’s not something I care much for. I guess the rationale for it is more trunk space and that I can appreciate. But the Prius seems relatively unique in that it doesn’t seem to be maximizing trunk (vertical) space the way that a lot of hatchbacks do. It’s sort of an in-between, unable to determine whether it’s a sedan or a hatchback in design.
  • It’s aerodynamic and/or maximizes mileage for hybrid engines and/or safety with lighter materials. Again, the problem with this theory is that it’s relatively unique. Civic Hybrids don’t ape the design, for instance, nor do Camry Hybrids. Then again, the Civic is a Civic. It’s design is set by the regular model it’s attached to. Same for a Camry. Notably, the Prius gets better mileage than the other two despite appearing to be slightly larger than a Civic. The Camry Hybrid doesn’t get very good mileage except when compared to a regular Camry. So the idea could be that the Prius model should be designed to maximize the Hybrid technology and turning it into a more hatchbacky or sedany design would negate that somehow. Also possible is that the Prius model is built lighter and would get better mileage even if it looked like a lightly outsized Civic. The fact that the Honda Insight, another purely hybrid model, looks similar suggests that maybe there is something about the look that works uniquely well with hybrids.
  • It has to be ugly to be conspicuous because the good designs were taken. This would be one of the main reasons to get a Prius rather than a Civic or Camry Hybrid. People see you in it and they know that you’re driving a Hybrid. The Civic and Camry they only know if they see the decal. Plus, if you’re asked what kind of car you drive, you can be all cool and say “Prius” whereas if you say “Civic” you could be losing that environmental cred unless you append “Hybrid”, in which case you may be being too conspicuously environmentally correct. Better to have a model that speaks for itself. While this may purely conspicuous in the same way that paying extra to drive an Acura to differentiate yourself from lowly Honda drivers, it is not necessarily so. There is a value in this conspicuousness if it promotes virtue. Driving an Acura says “I’m better than you” or “I’m as good as you”, driving a Prius could be seen as “I am driving an environmentally conscious car and you should, too.” Assuming that one believes that reducing carbon emissions is a lofty goal, this is a public good. And it’s a public good that driving a Civic or Camry Hybrid only provide privately. And it could be that Honda is going for the same thing with the Insight.
  • It’s cheaper that way. The Prius and Insight are cheaper than the Civic and Camry Hybrids. They’re both actually surprisingly affordable cars. So rather than it being a marker of conspicuousness, maybe it’s a marker for thriftiness. That’s something I could get behind. I don’t exactly drive sexxy cars myself…

Category: Road

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7 Responses to Ugly Hybrids

  1. erik says:

    I think option #4 is closest – it was intended to be conspicuous.

    if you say “Civic” you could be losing that environmental cred

    …as long as you exclude the environmental impact of all those batteries…

    At any rate, this is what a hybrid should look like:

    http://www.lexus.com/models/GSh/

  2. Linus says:

    Check out this wikipedia entry. The Prius and Insight are two of the lowest-drag production cars ever made. Surely this isn’t just coincidence. That said, I’m sure each of your other reasons has some element of truth.

    Erik, 80-90% of the environmental impact of a car takes place during its “operation stage,” so the gas savings makes up for the environmental impact of the batteries pretty quickly. See this Yahoo Answers page. And that Lexus? Not a bad looking car, but I find beauty in frugality, and that thing isn’t frugal in terms of cost ($50k+) or gasoline (22/25 mpg? You’re kidding, right?).

  3. trumwill says:

    The Lexus is gorgeous, though I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable driving one.

    The Wikipedia link doesn’t seem to be there. Assuming it says what Linus is saying that it says, I wonder why more cars aren’t designed that way. Maybe cause people like me hate it. Then again, if it really is practical, I can dig it a lot more. I think that I find beauty in practicality the same way that Linus does with frugality.

  4. erik says:

    Erik, 80-90% of the environmental impact of a car takes place during its “operation stage,”

    Hmmm…those studies don’t seem to be including hybrid vehicles, but rather “a typical North American mid-sized car”. The only one that specifically states hybrids places the average number closer to 75%. At any rate, the better the MPG the lower that % will be, no?

    the gas savings makes up for the environmental impact of the batteries pretty quickly

    5-10 years of gas savings before you break even on cost? Even if we allow that the environmental impact of production is 100% covered in the purchase price of the car (and the price of any additional batteries you have to buy), I’m not sure it comes out ahead much from the owner’s perspective. But you could be right.

    22/25 mpg? You’re kidding, right?

    Well, it isn’t a car that started out to be the most frugal in terms of either price or MPG. It is a luxury performance car, with 340 HP, and is hybrid technology applied to an existing automobile. But, yeah, since I have owned a GS with the V8 before that got 23 hwy I am a bit surprised that they couldn’t squeeze a few more MPG out of it. But the hybrid shines most in city driving, I suppose.

    Hey I’m not against hybrids at all, it’s just that they are not some magic solution that gives us zero emissions with no other costs. And given that only 3.62% of greenhouse gasses are CO2, and that only 3.4% of that 3.62% are caused by human activity, and that of that…… (that’s a discussion for another time)

  5. erik says:

    The Lexus is gorgeous, though I don’t think I’d ever be comfortable driving one

    Actually, you would be very comfortable driving one. 😉

    Off-topic: your spam filter is keeping my math skillz solid! When do we move on to the word problems?

  6. Linus says:

    Let’s try this again: wikipedia link

    Good points, Erik. I definitely wasn’t trying to imply that hybrids are the be-all end-all in sustainable transportation, and we’d surely have some pretty major problems if everyone bought one. But they’re pretty much the best we have right now, and I don’t think the battery aspect should make people shy away from buying one if they want to make a difference. However, no one should go around thinking that they’ve bought a hybrid, and therefore they’ve saved the world.

  7. Kirk says:

    Diesels get comparable mileage to hybrids, for far less cost. Also, there’s something pretty cool about your car having the same motor that powers semis, locomotives, and ships.

    http://www.vw.com/vwbuzz/browse/en/us/detail/Volkswagen_s_2009_Jetta_TDI_Clean_Diesel_awarded_Green_Car_of_the_Year/271

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