One thing that was really striking up in Cairns is how many Toyota Priuses are on the road. There are a whole lot – led by the taxis. I’d estimate that the Prius makes up about 2/3 of all of the taxis there (including one that’s gone over 500,000 km!). I just did a quick bit of research into Prius sales in Australia, and it looks like about 2% of all sales are in Cairns – about three times what you’d expect based on population. And since Prius sales have been overwhelmingly concentrated in the capital cities, that number is probably more like eight or ten times what you’d expect for an Australian city the size of Cairns.
Nancy and I were talking about this on the drive in today, and she suggested that maybe people up there are greener. That’s possible, but aside from all the Priuses on the road, there wasn’t a lot of evidence for that. I actually suspect it’s something simpler. In Brisbane and the other major cities, a Prius is still rare enough that people notice it and talk about it – and its ‘greenness’ is one of the big selling points in that situation. However, in Cairns, they’re so common that they’re unremarkable. In some respects, the Prius is just another car up there. And that actually makes it a lot easier to buy one. You’re not making a big political or environmental statement, you’re just buying a good car that’s really fuel efficient – if it’s good enough for the cabbies, it must be good enough for regular use.
If Toyota wants to get the Prius to go from being a niche vehicle to a more broadly popular one (and I’m still not convinced that they actually want to do this yet), this is the transition they need to make in peoples’ minds. They need different examples to show people. As a niche vehicle, it’s fine to have endorsements from celebrities that are known to support environmental causes. But if you want everyone driving one, go for the cabbies and turn it into just another car.