Jack Baruth: The Toyota Prius As A Luxury Car

Jack Baruth is as well known for his skill on the race track as his editorials on the internet. I’ve been reading Avoidable Contact for nearly two years now. Since then, Baruth decreed that the Nissan GT-R would be an abysmal sales failure in North America, he chronicled the advent of fake luxury, the joys of the Porsche option catalog, and published the seminal work on the futility of comparing lap times at the Nurburgring. I’ve always looked forward to Jack’s next instalment because he combines history, foresight, and a challenge to conventional wisdom. His brashly upstream style of writing is a refreshing change from the usual groupthink crap that floats around the web and print media.

For his most recent literary exploration, Jack likens the Toyota Prius, as a brand, to the Apple iPod. Both have undeniably had a halo effect on the other products their companies offer. This certainly holds true in light of the new iPad, a product that I want desperately to like but can’t seem to justify with anything resembling logic. Between my iPhone 3G and my 13” aluminum MacBook, I don’t see the gap in my life that Steve Jobs and Jony Ive created yesterday with the introduction of their plus-sized book reader.

Regardless, Jack’s argument is that since hipsters buy Apple products and hipsters buy Toyota Prii, all other computers and hybrid vehicles are second-rate and not “cool”. Like Jack, I’ve used Macs for the better part of the last 20 years, and I can say with fair certainty that it was anything but cool to use a non-PC until about 5 years ago. Since then, yes, it has been somewhat of a “cool” thing to do. To me, Apple’s amalgamation of software and hardware from the same company has always justified the price premium because the quality was there. I’ll leave a deeper discussion of “quality” to Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, read it), suffice to say that quality is worth paying more for. This is why I would pay more for a Bower & Wilkins sound system than a Sony sound system. Not because I can’t make do with the Sony, nor because I want to show off how cool I am, but because the quality is superior. Automotively speaking, the Toyota Prius is certainly of better quality than a Hyundai Elantra, despite the recent and voracious increases in quality of the South Korean export.

Jack’s thesis comes from the same person who wears thousand dollar pairs of shoes, has a fetish for high-end watches, has a 993 Carrera, a lime green Audi S5, a maroon Cayenne, and two VW Phaetons, this condemnation of luxury brands (and implicitly quality) is a bit hypocritical. Clearly, this is a man who subscribes to the School of Conspicuous Consumption. Nevertheless, Mr. Baruth is always entertaining and is one of the most engaging and entertaining writers today. He could certianly be mentioned in the same breath as Jeremy Clarkson, as both men entertain and incite introspection in equal measure. The difference is that Jeremy is an international sensation whereas Jack is known only to those in-the-know. Now follow the link and form your own opinion, all the cool kids are doing it.

[Avoidable Contact #30]

[Image credit: coches.blog2.es/Flikr]

2 thoughts on “Jack Baruth: The Toyota Prius As A Luxury Car

  1. jack@ssl says:

    As Neal Stephenson might say, a hypocrite is only somebody who devoutly wishes to be better than they actually are!

    I would be interested in getting an expanded opinion from you on Prius v. Elantra… what you prefer in both cars. I think the new-gen Prius is a quality step backwards from its predecessor, and I'm not the only person to see that, so I might not even be wrong :)

    • Thanks for responding Jack!

      As you yourself have previously observed, every consecutive generation of Toyota since 1996 has been a quality step backwards from its predecessor. This is also why Toyotas became affordable and therefore more popular. While the new Prius hasn’t moved the game on the way the 2nd gen did, its new user interface is quite slick and it still possesses an overall refinement in its driving experience that the Elantra can’t match. This having been said, both vehicles are staid appliances. Saying that one is head and shoulders better is like saying that a Kenmore is head and shoulders better than a Whirlpool. Both vehicles lack the engineering to make them any more adept than minimally necessary.

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