July 06, 2007
Prius Appeals As Personal Statement

The other hybrids do not sell as well because they do not shout "I'm a hybrid".

In fact, more than half of the Prius buyers surveyed this spring by CNW Marketing Research of Bandon, Ore., said the main reason they purchased their car was that “it makes a statement about me.”

Only a third of Prius owners cited that reason just three years ago, according to CNW, which tracks consumer buying trends.

“I really want people to know that I care about the environment,” said Joy Feasley of Philadelphia, owner of a green 2006 Prius. “I like that people stop and ask me how I like my car.”

This is why better home insulation does not get the money spent on it that hybrids get. Your neighbors can't see that you spent thousands of dollars on R-60 walls and R-90 attics. Also, your house probably doesn't get seen by nearly as many people as see your car tooling down busy roads and highways.

This presents a business challenge: What sort of service would allow people to upgrade their houses to extreme levels of fuel efficiency in such a way that the huge reduction in heating and air conditioning energy usage would be highly visible? Solar panels on the roof are visible. But the most cost effective ways to decrease energy involve changes inside walls and attics and doors and windows.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 06 12:11 AM  Energy Transportation

odograph said at July 6, 2007 6:10 AM:

CNW Marketing Research are the same guys that said a Prius lasts 100K miles, while the "greener" Hummer lasts 250K miles. (Their lifetime mileage claim was what made their very tenuous math work.)

Now with the bit of their latest "marketing research" (I suspect marketing research for one of the gas guzzler makers), they tell at least a partial truth.

People who want efficiency and CO2-friendliness, might want to make that choice apparent. It is the way of the species. Vehicles, be they F150 pick-ups, BMW 645's, or Priuses, state a membership in a group.

I felt this a little bit when, as a gentleman of a certain age, I chose an enviro-car. I could have chosen a car that might be mistaken for a "cheap little car" but I could not push my humility quite that far. The Prius gives me a plausible reason to not be in a BMW.

But again, the science and engineering for efficiency and CO2-friendliness are there. They are just made apparent.

I expect CNW Marketing Research (in their agenda to sell guzzlers) will spin this the other way entirely. They'll trot out their old (or new?) BS to claim there is not an engineering fundamental here, and that it is all about "look and feel."

(BTW, I'm blessed by a coastal California climate and use neither heat nor air conditioning. Insulation not required. But I do have the high efficiency washer and driver hidden away in the laundry closet.)

odograph said at July 6, 2007 6:13 AM:

P.S. The Prius is also, rationally, the "best hybrid." It gets the best mileage while carrying the most people and stuff. And it has a fold-down rear seat to allow larger cargo. I've got my mountain bike in there right now.

I don't expect NW Marketing Research (in their agenda to sell guzzlers) will make note of those practical advantages.

Morpheum said at July 6, 2007 7:24 AM:

If Al Gore's son can speed away from cops at 100+ mph in a Prius, I'm sold.

Lono said at July 6, 2007 12:45 PM:

Plus - you can put your Weed in There!

Seriously tho - I believe the Prius is the only one that completely shuts off it's engine making it a more technically effective hybrid solution.

I - of course - like the 6cyl Honda Hybrid better - but they aren't even making those going forward I hear?

I don't really have any problem with making environmental solutions "sexy" to the masses - if this helps organize them in a positive direction - but the fact that it created long waiting lists and increased pricing for the Prius made the "green" solution a little outside the reach of the common auto owner.

Ultimately we have to have elect a more accountable government here in the U.S. before we will see scientific advancement as a real driving force in the energy industry imho...

Until then we are literally just "spinning our wheels" while the stats quo energy monopolies reign.

Brett Bellmore said at July 6, 2007 1:24 PM:

The only reason the Prius gets you any enviromentalist creds is that people have been told that the thing is a hybrid. If this weren't common knowlege, you'd never figure it out from looking at it, any more than looking at a super-insulated house would tell you that it was low in energy consumption.

So, to answer your question, you need a stylistically distinct high R siding, or other construction technique, that's recognizable at a glance, but it doesn't have to be recognizable as being high R. Then you go to some trouble to TELL everybody what it is.

Tom said at July 6, 2007 1:31 PM:

This is crap. If you look at the percentages, they add up to way more than 100. So the question wasn't "What was the main reason you bought this car?" - it was "Which of these reasons do you agree with".

If people wanted to "look different", they could have bought the Honda Insight (which, by the way, was even more efficient than the Prius). But the sales of that car were dismal. Why? It was impractical for most people - very small, very little power, two doors.

The Prius (48/45, under the new EPA estimates) is bigger AND more efficient than the civic (40/45).

The next most efficient hybrid (if you can even buy it in your state) is nowhere near as efficient: the Altima hybrid, at 35/33. It also uses Toyota's hybrid system. Then the Toyota Camry, at 33/34. Finally, wonder of wonders, we get our first Big 3 hybrid - the Ford Escape 2WD, at 31/29. The Prius will go 50% farther on a gallon of gas.

If I buy a Prius, it will be despite the looks, not because of them.

wcw said at July 6, 2007 4:24 PM:

No, what the Prius's success tells us is that consumers are smarter than they look.

The Honda Motor Company designs fabulous engines. However, they are renowned in their cars for tuning those fabulous engines to the EPA MPG spec. The EPA MPG spec is not useful for many, perhaps for most drivers. Toyota, by contrast (and not just for the Prius) is known for tuning to minimize tailpipe emissions for most-likely use patterns. The result is that a soccer mom who wants to do well by the environment will almost always be better off with the Toyota product, whether a conventional Camry or a hybrid of one stripe or another.

That those who focus on real-world MPG buy the car that actually delivers real-world MPG is a testament to the power of the marketplace.

Perhaps the reason they don't also buy R-90 is that they live in California, not Minnesota.

Jerry Martinson said at July 6, 2007 7:34 PM:

There's an emerging label for having an eco-freindly house.

In some cases in California, entire developments are filled with only LEEDs accredited "GREEN" homes. Developers are building these for a variety of reasons, one of which is the appeal to buyers of showing off their "greenness" to their peers when they show that they live in a "green" neighborhood. Companies are also building new headquarters building green to get a PR benefit and to probably stoke the ego of the CEO.

The other one is to put solar panels on your house. Not sure that makes as much sense as saving energy in the first place.

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2007 7:42 PM:


I share your skepticism with CNW Market Research's previous report about hybrids. But I read another account of that report (not the press releases itself) more recently that claims they were looking at average miles driven. Supposedly the average Prius driver also drives a lot fewer miles than the average overall driver. So some of the premium they pay for the hybrid equipment doesn't get used much. So per dollar spent additional to get the hybrid they do not save as many gallons as makes sense.

I do not know if this is true. One would need to estimate what the Prius body would sell for if it was a non-hybrid.

I was initially turned off by the Prius because the in first 3 years of production the Prius only scored 3 stars in driver front and side crash tests. They've since raised to 4 stars side and front for the driver. But some other similar sized cars score higher.

As for people buying Priuses to make a statement: You admit to doing it yourself. So this latest CNW report seems likely to be true.

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2007 8:24 PM:


According to Businessweek, Toyota is making another hybrid-only vehicle and it will have a 2 to 3 liter engine versus the 1.5 liter Prius. So this will be a bigger car. Toyota is doing this in spite of making hybrid versions of a few other models. Obviously Toyota has learned the value of giving people the ability to deliver a message.

Honda is going diesel for the Accord:

Among Japanese rivals, Honda, along with dumping its Accord hybrid, plans a "clean" diesel for the U.S. market by 2009. It now plans to focus on hybrids for smaller models and use diesels for larger models, including the next-gen Accords, CR-V crossover sport-utility vehicles, and Odyssey minivans, where the cost benefit is most marked (see BusinessWeek.com, 6/8/2007, "The Trouble with Hybrids"). Nissan (NSANY), meanwhile, has said it will launch a diesel model in the U.S. by 2010.
PacRim Jim said at July 6, 2007 9:37 PM:

So the pollution is transferred to the towns where electricity is generated. Sounds like a liberal's idea of a solution: Let the redstaters breathe our pollution.

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2007 10:04 PM:

PacRim Jim,

We can use nuclear, wind, and eventually solar power to generate the electricity.

Randall Parker said at July 6, 2007 10:40 PM:

Consumer Reports thinks Prius fuel economy is nowhere near as good as the EPA estimates would lead one to expect.

“In our testing, we fell way short of EPA estimates of 60 mpg city and 51 mpg highway,” Consumer Reports stated in an April article. “Our Prius managed only 35 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway, with an average of 44 mpg overall.”

The Prius, however, is described by Consumer Reports as the most fuel-efficient vehicle on the market.

“The Prius still provides the best fuel economy we’ve recorded in a five-passenger vehicle, but it’s not nearly as high as the EPA figures would have you believe,” Consumer Reports states.

Also, an article in AutoWeek relays a rumour I've read elsewhere: Toyota might be selling the Prius as a loss leader.

Obviously, Honda doesn't have the deep pockets that Toyota has. If what people say is true, and Toyota loses money on every Prius it sells, well, Honda can't afford to keep doing that with the Accord.

Toyota has gotten great PR from selling the Prius.

Fortunately, advances in electronics and battery technology will drive down the cost of hybrids.

Doug said at July 7, 2007 12:04 AM:

Hi Randall,

You asked,

This presents a business challenge: What sort of service would allow people to upgrade their houses to extreme levels of fuel efficiency in such a way that the huge reduction in heating and air conditioning energy usage would be highly visible?

Many people seem to enjoy wearing clothing clearly marked with the trademark of the designer. They appear at least to tolerate but, more, actually seem to like having their electronics marked with trademarks and labels. They wear jewelry that advertises their marital status, school affiliation, and religion. They may have their body tattooed with their "sign" or some other symbol of a trait, affiliation, or opinion. Their vehicles are usually outfitted with a trademark, the name of the maker, a model name, and other labels that tell the envious observer just what he's missing. You can often "read" the back or side of someone's car and learn how many gears its transmission has, how large its engine is or how many cylinders it has, and whether it's equipped with "ABS," an anti-lock braking system. It seems a team of smart, experienced marketers could come up with ways of marking a home that would let the owner tastefully advertise his just or liberal use of his wealth to protect the environment by minimizing his family's consumption of energy.

odograph said at July 7, 2007 8:56 AM:

Randall, I think the your diffuse response to me is a little worrying. If there were a core, rational, attack on the Prius it could be made more tightly. To imply this or that, and move on, as CNW is wont to do (it's their job!) is weak. I don't think should support that kind of thing ...

First of all, I think it's easy to call complete BS on any absolute projection of Prius II lifespan. The car was introduced in 2004. That's only 3 years ago. And these guys want to do convenient numeric analysis to come up with a short lifespan for that car. The fact is that the closest real number we have, for passenger cars in general, comes from the US Department of Transportation (my link has expired, but the quote is):

The improvements are helping cars’ longevity. In 1977, half of all U.S. passenger cars lasted until they were 10.5 years old, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates. Their travel lifetime was 107,000 miles. By 2001 — the latest year tallied — median longevity was 13 years for passenger cars and their travel lifetime was up to 152,000 miles.

For light trucks, the mileage rose from 128,000 to 180,000, reports NHTSA, but longevity remained 14 years, largely because more trucks were being used like cars.

Note that these CNW guys have the audacity to float a 250,000 mile number for a brand-new Hummer model, in the face of those light truck numbers as well. They are stretching the data just as hard as they can, and that is not something a "future pundit" should buy into.

What was next? Dollars spent? WTF? My Prius cost $22K. The average new car in America sells for $26-27K. The Prius is CHEAPER THAN THE AVERAGE CAR SOLD. Why the heck do you need to prove a cheaper alternative when we can already is in plain numbers that the Prius will cost the average buyer less, and use much less fuel and energy over it's lifetime? Go ahead, look up non-CNW _Marketing_ numbers for total energy if you don't believe me.

What was next? Three stars? That may be your personal decision, but if you want to blast the Prius why don't you tell me what the average new car in America rates in safety? Would the Prius be (as we saw in cost an energy) an improvement on the average? (Since I use my Prius to drag a mountain bike around it would be a little silly for me to sweat those final stars. My most extreme risk behaviors are not in the car. And you might want to pause to consider that as well ... American health & etc. versus auto safety starts ...)

What was next? That I like the look? Of course I said they captured a partial truth, but I also said they spined it ... as you did in your response to me.

Overall, I rate your response as not very grounded in science or engineering.

odograph said at July 7, 2007 9:18 AM:


I think you are displaying some obvious bias when you choose Consumer Reports mileage over the large body of real-world data we have:

The EPA's "shared" real world data for the Prius

Green Hybird database for more models

If CR does not match the real world, then their test is bad. It's as simple as that.

FWIW, I think this is an illustration of Web2.0 triumphing over conventional expertise. CR was useful when all we had were the Mfg claims and EPA data. CR tried to make a real, representative driving loop, and test many cars on it. They now could/should adjust that loop with the web-aggregated data on real-world mileages ... or they should simply adopt the Web2.0 model.

Anyway, feel free to compare the Prius apples-to-apples with other real-world numbers from the same databases.

(on the "selling at a loss" thing ... another weak claim and indirection IMO. I mean why is "might" in that headline? Why do you want to sway us with something that "might" (according to Toyota's foes) be true?)

odograph said at July 7, 2007 10:42 AM:

Shortest: I think there is a rational, and not emotional, case to be made that if the average car in America looked like a Prius it would be a win-win all the way around. People would, on average, spend less on their car. The would spend less (about half as much) on gas. They would be safer (on average).

We can make an emotional attack that those same people might be "self-satisfied" or even "smug" but that would not change the fact based and engineering analysis.

I'll throw in some final data. The fundamental measure in auto safety is the real world measurement of deaths (or injuries) per million miles. The data is not in for new cars like the Prius or H3, but I'll note the numbers we have for similar existing cars:

Look at page nine of this pdf. The cluster of "Corolla, Civic, Jetta, Camry" are safer to drivers, and much safer to other drivers, than the cluster of "Tahoe, Cherokee, Explorer, 4Runner, Blazer."

That's the data, not some "marketing" projection, or even a more serious (but subjective) "start" assignment.

Randall Parker said at July 7, 2007 10:57 AM:


You are totally misunderstanding me.

1) I'm not attacking the Prius. I hope Toyota sells more. I do not mind if people buy the Prius in order to send a social signal just as I do not mind if people buy a BMW 7 series or a Hummer to send a social signal or that they wear Christian Dior or Prada to do likewise. Yes, I bring up what motivates people and often times their motives are not as lofty as we'd like to think about ourselves or to have others believe about ourselves. But that doesn't mean the end result is harmful.

2) If people want to spend $22k on a Prius instead of $60k for a fancy Beemer or $25k for some non-hybrid sedan then I'm happy to see them do that.

3) Loss leaders are rational things for businesses to sell. If the Prius pulls more people into Toyota show rooms and some of them buy some other Toyota product then the loss leader sales of the Prius might just be an effective marketing expenditure.

3) I think it is very unfortunate that people who buy car models that come in both hybrid and non-hybrid versions choose the non-hybrid versions at rates that seem irrational to me. My take on it is that people aren't rationally weighing off gasoline costs versus additional costs of hybrids and they are making less than optimal choices. Not saying hybrids are for everyone. For example, I drive far too few miles a year to justify the extra cost. But, for example, high mileage urban drivers who choose a non-hybrid Ford Escape over the hybrid version are probably making an economic mistake.

4) I used the Consumer Reports result because they use a standard track. The "shared" real world data is interesting but we have no idea how typical or untypical those drivers are. There are people out there competing to drive with styles that boost their gas mileage.

5) I have previously stated on several occasions that the big value of the current demand for hybrid vehicles is that they provide incentives for companies to develop next generation batteries for cars. Therefore whether Prius purchasers are making the most effective use of their own money to save fuel or to reduce pollution is really a secondary consideration. A rising demand for hybrids makes more venture capital available to make lithium batteries and nanotech batteries for cars. Great. Those Prius buyers are performing a public service.

6) I am disappointed that only Doug picked up on the main thrust of my original post: Huge amounts of energy could very cost effectively get saved by making housing more energy efficient. But humans have no easy way to make economically rational choices in housing efficiency that allow them to signal their higher status.

odograph said at July 7, 2007 11:10 AM:

Those CNW guys get under my skin. Their memes are based on, IMO, numbers games. It is very frustrating when their memes spread.

I'll only hit a few of your current points:

3) You mean "purported" loss leader. And, how does that claim mesh with their push to make the Prius mainstream? It did make the top-ten models in sales for a recent month. Can they carry losses into a top-selling car? Normally people "loss lead" in order to make money with other purchases ... but again, why is this even an issue? As a buyer I want an inexpensive car. If I can snag a loss leader, so much the better. IMO the meme here is to suggest that the Prius value must not be "real" because it "might" (remember that word "might?") be sold at a loss.

4) CR probably uses short trips in their standard tests, and hybrids do esp. poorly on short hops. The reason for that is that they must heat up their engine and catalytic converter at the start of each leg to achieve their low emissions rating. And it seems simple enough to me that 170 people reporting are a better statistical group than one CR tester. No? How does one tester trump that?

5) I think the important thing to note is that the US fleet average MPG is still sitting at around 22 or 23 MPG. Those real world databases show that the Prius gets on average 46 or 47 MPG. The latest Honda Civic Hybrid does about as well, just a smidge less. The important thing about these cars is that they can serve the "average user" demographic, while doubling the average MPG.

We need more Priuses (and Civic Hybrids) sold today. If and when future-cars do arrive with better with better batteries and etc., I'm sure us Prius drivers will be in line.

We could actually consider the CNW memes, together with the continued promises of vaporware cars, as an attempt to dissuade current buyers ... and that is the great danger of these arguments.

We have the products today to make great improvement.

odograph said at July 8, 2007 6:56 AM:

Thinking it over, and leaving CNW-memes aside, maybe your comment relates to this discussion at Gristmill about green and greenwashing. There, I commented:

"Second, let's say I build a NEW data center and a new coal plant to go with it. Then I pay someone else to build some wind turbines. That doesn't strike me as behavior meriting recognition by the world as a 'green' leader."

500 years ago, Baltissare Castiglione said that if you were going to do something heroic, do it where the King can see you.

With a little variation, now for popular opinion, that is what solar panels or wind turbines on your own roof do. They demonstrate to the public your heroic effort.

But, from a strict scientific measure, "topology" of the network is not what makes merit. It is whether you put more green electrons into the network (anywhere on the planet) than you pull out, and whether you produce a net reduction in CO2 emissions over the course of your actions.

Sadly, some people will take this further, with a theoretical economic argument that any solar panel on your own roof, or any wind farm in the next state, is ultimately futile ... because they all (no matter where they are in the topology) reduce demand for fossil fuels, reducing prices, and bringing more users.

I hope that's not true ... but I'll note that it also is really an argument independent of the "length of cord" between source and sink.

I trusted google-lucky to correct my spelling. It's really Baldassare Castiglione, but sure. There is a pragmatic argument that we should do the "heroic" where people can see it.

That probably does shape "green" actions, be they at the corporate or personal level.

odograph said at July 8, 2007 6:59 AM:

Oh, I forgot the link to the Gristmill column itself. It's one of a series. It appears that Joseph Romm is going to make "offsets" his next "hydrogen." A book (a less good book, IMO) is probably in the works.

Randall Parker said at July 8, 2007 12:07 PM:


The problem is that some of our most heroic energy-reducing activities must be done in places where the king does not see us. That's my point. The most cost effective ways to reduce energy usage without any reduction in living standards are in the construction and stocking of buildings. Noone can flash big public green credentials by putting in better appliances.

Better insulations, windows, doors, and other building material would greatly reduce energy used for heating and cooling. Better choice of appliances would greatly reduce electric and natural gas and oil usage as well.

McKinsey says the energy savings potential is enormous

NEW YORK: Energy-saving opportunities in American homes are immense with current technology, but new product standard mandates will be needed, according to a study by the McKinsey Global Institute.

The research group's study, being released Thursday, concludes that projected electricity consumption in residential buildings in the United States in 2020 could be reduced by more than a third if compact fluorescent light bulbs and an array of other high-efficiency options including water heaters, kitchen appliances, room-insulation materials and standby power were adopted across the nation.

The energy saving over that time, if achieved, would be equivalent to the production from 110 new coal-fired 600-megawatt power plants, the researchers estimate.

While I hate flourescent bulbs and only use them for outdoors lighting the rest of these recommendations sound great to me:

A typical household can replace incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent lighting fixtures and get a payback in less than a year. It can also replace low-efficiency water heaters with demand-instantaneous or solar water heaters, which would save up to 65 per cent of the energy used in water heating and have a return on investment of some 11 per cent annually. Installing a state-of-the-art heat pump saves 25 per cent on the average annual heating and cooling bill for an extra cost of less than $1,000.

Why have consumers and businesses not seized these opportunities? The answer lies in a range of energy market imperfections that discourage them from seeking energy efficient products or making energy saving investments. Consumers often lack the information and capital to become more energy productive. Businesses, too, tend mistakenly to regard investments in energy efficiency as both costly and risky.

You can read the full report: Curbing Global Energy Demand Growth: The Energy Productivity Opportunity.

Bob Badour said at July 8, 2007 3:31 PM:


Do you hate the fluorescent replacements for incandescent bulbs? I don't notice any difference between them and the old incandescents unlike the big tubes.

Randall Parker said at July 8, 2007 3:40 PM:


Now that I think about it, I do not know if I hate the fluorescents that replace incandescents. I can't install the fluorescent replacements in many of my ceiling light fixtures because they won't fit. I have a few places I could put them. I'll have to try them out the next time some incandescents fail.

Bob Badour said at July 8, 2007 3:46 PM:

They are quite expensive. Before taking a chance on them at your house, I suggest you keep an eye out for them elsewhere. You may have been around them before and simply not noticed.

Jerry Martinson said at July 8, 2007 11:30 PM:

I first started using CFLs back in 1989 in Wisconsin when I did apartment maintenance. There were a lot of hall lights that needed to be on constantly. They saved the complex owner there at least $20k a year and this was before the subsidies kicked in. But they were really long back then and they were less reliable than they are now. They also sometimes flickered. Things have really improved since then. I've been using them when possible from then on.

I remodeled my house in 2006 with a bunch of insulation compatible Edison socket recessed cans. I put the compact fluorescents everywhere and I only had one infant mortality. In California, they're subsidized so much by PG&E at retail outlets that they cost about $2/per. I can't say anything bad about them; even my wife loves them. I don't have them in my kids rooms because I have a dimmer for those and I'm not ready to give up dimming until they are older. In the family room I made an extra switch so that just two turn on so that way I wouldn't need a dimmer. They flicker for about a quarter second when I turn them on. When they burn in the first 2 days the luminosity isn't consistent from bulb to bulb but it evens out over time.

Unless you have super-fancy central ceiling fixtures, you can replace them in about 20 minutes with a $25 one from a Lowe's/Home Depot that either takes a circular florescent or will be big enough for the CFLs. Some CFLs are smaller than others. They also sell vanity globe bulbs now. They look pretty good.

There was talk of California making new laws for a fluorescent ICAT (Insulation Compatible Air Tight) can than would not only guard against attic air infiltration which is a serious problem with recessed cans. I'm not sure where that's at. Officially, California wants most Edison sockets to be illegal in rooms with a high Lumens per Watt requirement (such as the main Kitchen light fixture) as they assume someones just going to put an incandescent in there. That seems rather stupid to me unless their fluorescent ICAT dream actually reaches a reasonable cost.

I can't wait for LEDs but the little bit I've played with the early products tells me that it still has a long way to go. It seem too red and blue with not enough spectrum in between. It really makes it hard to read.

anon said at July 9, 2007 12:00 AM:

There was an issue that had come up with people putting CFLs in recessed can fixtures or ceiling lights that unfairly affected their reputation. In short, they get a little hotter than they'd otherwise would (since they are upside down and the can is surrounded by insulation) and the electrolytic capacitors in the ballast "popcorn" and leak out faster than the 10k hours the bulbs are supposed to last. This can be more of a problem if you use bright bulbs, which generate more heat.

However, the _real_ problem wasn't the extra heat, but merely an industry-wide bad batch of caps in 2001-2003 due to a manufacturer copying the electrolyte formula wrong. Believe me, it affected a lot more than CFLs! This hasn't stopped a whole group of organizations trying to somehow cast the CFL-in-a-can as some sort of extreme engineering feat to try to create a high-margin differentiated product.

odograph said at July 9, 2007 5:39 AM:

Didn't a front-loading Whirlpool luxury washer become their best selling model?

I think it did. In a variety of fashion colors. It also led a fashion revolution toward the front-loading and efficient.

And when people buy insulation or CFLs, do they talk about them?

I think they do. I've been the bored victim as "my insulation is bigger than your insulation" conversations swirled around me.

People are not dolts at status-seeking. When their investment is hidden, they'll mention it.

Innovation Catalyst said at July 9, 2007 9:08 AM:


Homes aren't products, so homebuilders aren't driven by the same need to improve as would a product manufacturer. Homes are investments. If a person buys a $400K house, it might be new or old but it most likely will be about the same size with the same features. The new might be more efficient than the old but most homeowners don't care. It will still be worth $500K in a few years no matter what.

With regard to energy efficient construction, the big cost benefits are accrued when insulation et. al. allow you to remove the need for heating and cooling altogether. This is doable in a dry moderate climate area. In the east and south you still have to dehumidify, so it becomes a tradeoff - more insulation and tightening to get a smaller heating and cooling load. But the first cost will be higher.

Then you have to find a builder who will do that for you, and unless you own the lot and can hire a custom builder you are sunk. Most new homes are constructed by a volume builder who has a deal with the land developer to build X hundred homes with very little variation.

Assuming you can find a builder who will do it for you, you now have to convince the bank that the house is worth more with the energy efficiency addons to justify a larger-than-market-appraisal mortgage. Lenders don't allow a higher value based on energy savings.

With so many hurdles, it is no wonder people take the easy route, get a home with a big master bedroom and nice kitchen, and happily pay a higher utility bill.

Nick said at July 10, 2007 12:32 PM:

Randall, the question about status is important because the auto manufacturers are still having a hard time believing that hybrids and PHEV's are the future. They'd like to believe that they are just a fad, a fashion driven by advertising, like SUV's. Further, they'd like to believe that they are not profitable, but just a PR loss-leader. For these reasons, we should demand real evidence and analysis for these claims, not dubious rumors or polls.

GM just recently stopped claiming that the main value of the Prius for Toyota was for it's image, and not as a profitable product. I think they have sincerely changed their minds, but it would be nice to drive a stake in these ideas.

Nick said at July 10, 2007 12:37 PM:

BTW, I agree with you about houses. I think the two answers are 1) branding, like designer labels and auto badges, and 2) regulation.

Ultimately, the market failure caused by the disconnect between developers and buyers means that we really need regulation, especially improved building codes. I prefer the market where possible, but the market is clearly inadequate here.

Development of "green" mortgages, energy conscious MLS's, and improved energy cost disclosure requirements would also help.

Randall Parker said at July 10, 2007 6:47 PM:


I think it speaks volumes about the appeal of the Prius that:

A) Toyota is slowing down the overall roll-out of hybrids across all models while at the same time developing another hybrid-only model. Toyota's own experience is that a large portion of the appeal of the Prius is that everyone who looks at it instantly knows it is a hybrid.

B) Honda is ending their hybrid version of the Accord to replace it with a diesel version.

Are car buyers making a mistake? For examplem does the difference between the 31/29 Escape Hybrid and the 20/24 non-hybrid automatic 4 cylinder Escape justify their price difference? Seems like urban drivers who want a small SUV ought to flock to the Escape hybrid. But it sells a tenth of what the Prius sells.

BTW, did you know that since the EPA revised its method of measuring fuel economy to make it more realistic that the Toyota Prius ratings went 60/51 to 45/48 city/highway? The city driving score dropped by a quarter.

Nick said at July 11, 2007 10:43 AM:

Randall, no question that part of the Prius appeal is it's image - partly status perhaps, but also a desire to be part of a movement towards efficiency, a movement which has elements of altruism.

But....that's exaggerated some.

A) The efficiency of the Prius is only partly it's hybridization: Toyota optimized many other components, which contribute perhaps 60% of the Prius's efficiency gains. You lose those benefits when you make hybridization an option on a standard vehicle.

B) The Accord was a "power hybrid", which was only slightly more efficient than the standard model - it was perfectly rational for buyers to avoid it. I'm not sure about the Escape. I would note that Ford didn't promote it at first, in part due to a shortage of (Toyota controlled) hybrid components, and they may still be limited in their production capacity.

If you buy an SUV, especially an american one, you've already made a decision on emotional grounds to not go for efficiency (or safety, or reliability...), and it might be a bit of cognitive dissonance to then choose an efficient option. Though I wouldn't be surprised if car buyers were making a mistake - people commonly overvalue capital expenditure, and undervalue operating costs.

Yes, the Prius MPG went down, but so did all the rest. It wasn't uncommon for real MPG to be 25% lower than the old EPA ratings, especially for city driving.

TheBaldGuy said at July 12, 2007 2:27 PM:

Nick, No,we did not se an across the board 25% drop with the new EPA-MPG scheme. Most saw reductions, but IIRC most were in the 10-18% range.


I'm with you on CFLs. They, just like hybrids, need to be analyzed on a per-user basis. Me, I tried them. For a long time. But the fact is that even as recent as this year, the incandescents last longer in my house than CFLs. My family is in the habit of turning off lights when we leave. That often means a light may be on in the kitchen for a few minutes asw e get a cup and fill it with something to drink, then leave the room shutting of the light. Experience has taught me that CFLs die far quicker in these circumstances. I have CFLs in my outdoor lights - they get left on for longer periods of time. My garage uses old style tubes. I've not replaced one in nearly a decade.

And yes I have done the calculations of what it costs me to run incandescent vs. CFLs with my real world usage and replacement. CLFs are too expensive for my house. Same for my neighbor, and three other families I know of.

As far as house insulation: again right there with you. If you want people to truly understand it, put them in a 1970's house that has not had it's insulation upgraded, and has to live with the poor designs of the time. Let them spend a year paying for the much higher cost of keeping it moderate in temp. Oh, and make sure the house is in an area that gets snow part of the year, and sunbathing and "too hot" other parts.

As far as status symbol and housing .. hmm that's a tough one. Around here it appears that solar-thermal radiant floor may become one. At least, part of me hopes so. ;) I'm in SW Idaho. Based on my heat/water usage I can spend a few grand to install a solar radiant floor - retrofit into my mid-70's house. It will pay itself off in a few years at today's rates. But just as important, it'll be so much nicer in here. I've already got many people in the area quite interested in my results.

I've now accumulated enough data for the "before" part of the conversions. Yeah it sucked, but I'll have a nice dramatic change in "after" for comparison.

As far as MPG reports from drivers. No I'd still rather have standardized tests, though I'd like to see some means of aggregating data from the car - not people's reports. People refuse to believe that my Corvette gets low to mid twenties in town and mid to upper thirties on the highway. Virtually all fellow C5 owners in the area report the same. When people go with me and see the data, and see that I don't drive terribly different than the norm (i.e. I'm not one of those "ultramilers" or whatever they are called now), then they get it. So people making the data submission themselves based on their reports I can't see people trusting - except those who want to believe the reports.

Give people a way to anonymously or non-anonymously upload the data from their EMS or a similar system for their house and then we can consider that route. But as long as it is effectively "he said/she said" you get nowhere fast.

Nick said at July 13, 2007 8:13 AM:

TheBaldGuy, I didn't say they all dropped by 25%, I said they all dropped to some extent, and the Prius wasn't alone in getting a big reduction. The median of 10-18% is 14%. IIRC the average EPA MPG before was about 27MPG. That suggests the new average is about 23MPG. So the Prius, at about 46MPG, is still double the average.

IOW, the ratio before was about 56:27, or 108% better, and the ratio now is 46:23, or 100% better. Not much change.

David said at July 27, 2007 3:36 AM:

Does anyone have CNW's research report? I cannot find it on line and have not received a response from an email to them. I am involved in consumer research, and I know the way you ask the questions can have a big impact on the outcome, especially if you have an agenda as CNW appears to. I would appreciate any help on this.

Jon said at August 2, 2007 10:26 AM:

The CNW report is very easy to find on the web:


But please do be sure to also read this critique of the report from an extremely well-respected scientist -- it is the best of several well-considered critiques from well-qualified sources:


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