Hybrid Buyers are Liars?

Last Updated Apr 8, 2008 12:03 PM EDT

A Reuters article today, which you can read on BNET, detailed how Detroit automakers are now trying to copy the "Green Halo" cache of the Toyota Prius hybrid. Now Detroit has been making hybrids for years, but they differ from the Prius because they almost always look exactly like the regular models. And the reason they don't compete with the Prius' sales figures, according to one consultant quoted in the article, is that hybrid buyers are liars. The reason they buy a Prius is not solely because they want to help the environment, he says; the real goal is to let everyone know you're helping the environment. And the distinct, looks-like-nothing-else-on-the-road-design of the Prius makes that abundantly clear.

There's a certain sliminess to this issue that first came to my attention almost a year ago, when the New York Times ran a front-page story about Prius owners, where 57 percent said they bought the car because it "Makes a statement about me." Higher fuel economy? Only 36 percent cited that as a reason. Lower emissions, the goal of green? Try just 25 percent.

The message to Detroit is clear: putting a hybrid engine in a Ford Escape SUV is not going to sell simply because the little "hybrid" label on the back doesn't scream loud enough.

But the question is: Is there something false about people who buy a hybrid because it makes a statement about them? Is that ethically wrong?

I'll take it either way if it will get more hybrids on the road and reduce our carbon emissions and our dependence on oil, but are those 57 percent dirtying the wholesome ethics of the green movement if their chief motivation is to own a status symbol instead of an eco-friendly vehicle? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

  • William Baker

    William Baker is a freelance writer living in Cambridge, MA. His work has appeared in Popular Science, the Boston Globe Magazine, the New York Daily News, Boston Magazine, The Weekly Dig and a bunch of other places (including Field & Stream, though he doesn't hunt and can't really fish). He is a regular contributor to the Boston Globe, where he writes the weekly column, "Meeting the Minds." He holds a master's degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, and is at work on his first book.