Daniel Gross. “Blue-Collar PriusHybrid cars aren’t just for smug yuppies anymore.” Slate. 9 Apr. 2008 – the rising cost of oil and the current recession, which started among subprime consumers and is steadily eating its way up the economic ladder, may combine to change the hybrid vehicle’s image from a white-collar status symbol to a blue-collar money-saver.
Given that consumers—even well-off consumers who shop at places such as Starbucks and Nordstrom—have been pulling back in recent months, one would have thought that hybrid sales would be tanking. After all, during recessions, discretionary products suffer while discount products and companies thrive, which is why Wal-Mart has been doing well. But at Toyota, hybrids have been doing well. In March, a month in which total sales fell 3.4 percent from March 2007, Toyota sold 31,552 hybrids, up 19 percent from the year before. Sales of Lexus light trucks rose slightly, powered by rising sales of hybrid SUVs, even as sales of Lexus sedans plummeted. In this down market, sales of high-end vehicles that convey only status are slumping, while sales of slightly less high-end vehicles that convey status and promise gas savings are booming. Hybrids have become a real business for Toyota. In 2007, a year in which overall vehicle sales fell, hybrid sales rose 44 percent to constitute about 10.6 percent of sales. In March, hybrids accounted for nearly one in every six vehicles sold by Toyota.