Taking A Pass On The Prius

Posted on September 25, 2009 by LCT Magazine

THINGS THAT MAKE YOU GO UMMM. Take note of comments from Commonwealth's Dawson Rutter this week in LCT E-News regarding his bulk purchase of Royale's Hybrid L Fusion chauffeured sedan:

“There is a huge sacrifice now to using a Prius,” said Rutter, owner and CEO of Boston-based Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation. “There is little or none to using this Fusion. One customer told me, ‘Throw the Prius to the curb. . . We would only ride in the Prius because it’s green.’”

Well said, enough said. Rutter plans to get rid of his two Toyota Priuses. Look for other operators to follow suit.

The fact that a major coachbuilder has made a 6-inch stretched hybrid sedan with plenty of legroom that gets 40-plus mpg summarily ends the absurd debate about whether the Toyota Prius belongs in the chauffeured transportation industry. It doesn't and it never did. The Prius is a compact. The Hybrid L Fusion is not. Chauffeured service is based on comfort and class. One executive at a coachbuilder told me this week that riding around in the back seat of a Prius felt like being in a helicopter.

In fact, hindsight being 20/20, the whole "Prius stage" was largely unnecessary. Granted, operators who bought them were filling a market demand by corporations insisting on green sedan transportation. And you can't fault any operator for supplying a market demand to make money. But no one was patient enough to wait for roomy, viable vehicles to be developed that use hybrid technology to get good mileage. So, the Prius became the temporary settle-for-less alternative; the little me-too-that-could.

I always knew most operators really didn't like the Prius based on what many told me privately. And truth be told, as the above comment shows, some clients didn't really want to ride in them either. Green-preening Hollywooders routinely show up in Priuses at public entertainment industry events but always prefer the bigger black vehicles when out of the public eye. That says it all.

Recession or not, global warming or not., Americans still prefer comfortable, roomy vehicles. And even luxury ones when prosperity makes it possible. Don't count on a sea change toward compact transportation. That's wishful thinking.

What has been unfortunate is the politically correct baggage that saddled the Prius; we all had to pat the little Prius on the hood and collectively say, "There, there. Nice green car. You, too can be a limo." Sorry, but in the real world not everyone gets a trophy.

You can count on more and more operators to gravitate to the Fusion and future such hybrids. It's now time to do what Rutter says in a way: Kick the Prius all the way. . . . .to the commuter lane where it belongs. It's a fine, compact, commuter and family vehicle for short hauls around town. The good news for operators who bought the Prius is that its popularity  among consumers means it should sell well on the used vehicle market.

In places such as Southern California, the Priuses roll everywhere. They have become a status symbol in so many ways. And in this industry, a symbolic green trinket is all it ever was.

-- Martin Romjue, LCT editor

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