Pious, Prius

One smart little car.

One smart little car.

(Come friend Aunt Ruthie on Facebook and let’s hang out.)

Full transparency: Aunt Ruth drives a Prius, but—in opposition to what many a pundit has suggested—that doesn’t make her think she’s better than you, nor does it send you a signal of who she is or who she purports to be. If it was once a status symbol, then a target of road rage and now a cultural cliché … well, whatever. Auntie Ruth drives one. With pride.

The accusations of snobbery were culled from polling of Prius owners, so they were probably earned. You could see the backlash coming during Obama’s ’08 run for the presidency. Machinist union pres Tom Buffenbarger endorsed Hillary Clinton while bashing Obama’s supporters as “latte-drinking, Prius-driving, Birkenstock-wearing, trust-fund babies.” At which time Auntie Ruth thought, “Damn, I’ve got the latte, the Birkenstocks and the Prius … but what I could really use is some trust fund, baby.”

The Toyota Prius went on sale in Japan in ’97 and in the States in ’01. It hit the 1 million mark, worldwide, in ’07 and passed 3 million in worldwide sales in February of this year, with a third of those being sold in America, according to Fast Company. Comparatively, the Toyota Camry passed the 10 million mark back in ’05—and Toyota sold 7.8 million cars worldwide in ’09 alone.

Ruthie bought it used from a Sacramento guy who had two of them. How he loved the Prius he sold Aunt Ruth (it was his first; she can still remember how wistful he looked as we drove off).

In these times of A.J. (After Jobs), when the beauty of Apple products is all the chitty-chat, Prius nestles into that paradigm rather neatly: It’s one smart little car. It’s not the fastest—while Al Gore’s kid got it up to 100 mph, he was on drugs at the time, and you’d have to be—and its looks aren’t everybody’s definition of foxy. But it’s taught Auntie Ruth how to drive more intelligently. And—oh, yeah—saved her a lot of gas money.

True, in Sweden, where hybirds are legion, gas emissions are actually up—hybirds save money on gas and people drive them more (this according to Common Dreams). Pious is as Prius does; may America wrestle with the same problem by and by.