Toyota’s Hot-Selling Prius Appeals to Drivers’ Vanity

Last month, Honda sold 1,963 Civic Hybrids and a meager 34 Insight hybrids in the U.S. — and sales trends for both models are trending downward — while the Toyota Prius fairly flew off lots, with 5,230 sold in the U.S. last month. A Toyota spokesperson said the company could have sold twice as many if production had kept up with demand. Why the difference? It’s not performance or gas mileage, areas where the cars are roughly equivalent. Analysts say one thing can explain the disparate sales figures: vanity. Unlike the Civic, the Prius starts in electric mode, silently. And while the hybrid Civic just looks like a standard Civic, the Prius has a distinctive shape, with a bulky back end. In other words, the Prius stands out as a hybrid. In focus groups, hybrid buyers “will candidly admit they expect to receive some acclaim from friends, relatives, co-workers for their concern about the environment and/or fuel efficiency,” said market researcher Art Spinella.