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Becky Graebner

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September 5, 2013 - 12:30 pm
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A Honda and a Toyota…but who could tell?

We can blame the successful Toyota Prius for the iconic egg-shape that has taken over the electric/hybrid vehicle category. Most manufacturers have sought to duplicate the success of the Prius by adopting its technology—as well as mimicking its exterior design. So, what did the consumers end up with?  Cars like the Ford C-Max, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Insight Hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf hatchback compact—or a dozen EV jelly beans on wheels that are starting to look like car clones.

Well, Toyota might be serving up a new exterior for the Prius in its quest to freshen its image!

Although the Prius was a smash hit, Toyota lost its reign over the car industry a few years ago. A few too many recalls and boring vehicle line-ups cost the mass-market brand some customers. In an attempt to regain their crown, and curb some of Ford and Tesla’s success with EVs, Toyota is hoping to revamp its line and woo buyers. Toyota announced last week that they plan to shed their “frump” and are adjusting their design trajectory so that adjectives for future vehicles include “sporty” and “fun to drive.” Toyota is currently the top-seller of hybrid vehicles, and many of these design changes will primarily impact their hybrid and EV line up. Mr. Toyota wants to “inject energy into designs and driving characteristics in order to appeal to younger buyers.”

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I hope Toyota doesn't really believe this. Prius drivers have a strong need for everybody to know they're driving a hybrid. Prius sales success is more from indulging the owner's narcissistic need to say "I'm better than you!" than it does from the driving qualities of the car.

Right now, Tesla's got a huge edge in self-righteousness, which is paramount to this segment of buyers. Making the next gen Prius "fun" or "sporty" won't poach and customers. Maybe best bet is to have, ya know, actual, bona fide fuel savings that aren't completely offset by the extra expense associated with the hybrid technology. Make them genuinely economical instead of pretend-economical.
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