The plural of Prius is …

George S. Will writes about politics, baseball, and such Americana as adult beverages and cars:

The connection between cars and self-image is as American as the anti-Prius, the F-150 pickup truck. This connection is the subject of the entertaining and instructive book Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars by Paul Ingrassia, a journalist knowledgeable about the automobile industry. He thinks the hinge of our history was the 1920s, when General Motors’ LaSalle was introduced as a conspicuous-consumption alternative to Henry Ford’s pedestrian, so to speak, Model T. Since then, Ingrassia says, American culture has been a tug of war “between the practical and the pretentious, the frugal versus the flamboyant, haute cuisine versus hot wings.” …

In 1953, after almost 25 years of Depression and war, the Korean armistice signaled the restoration of the pleasure principle, as did the December appearance of two first editions — of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine and Chevrolet’s Corvette. That car’s designer, Zora Arkus-Duntov — English was his fourth language — explained: “In our age where the average person is a cog wheel who gets pushed in the subways, elevators, department stores, cafeterias … the ownership of a different car provides the means to ascertain his individuality to himself and everybody around.” Ere long, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s Corvette license plate read “RES IPSA,” lawyer’s Latin for “It speaks for itself.” And loudly. …

Thanks to Ralph Nader, Chevrolet’s small Corvair begat a growth industry — lawsuits — and a president. (The Corvair made Nader famous, and 35 years later his 97,000 Florida votes gave George W. Bush the presidency.) Baby boomers had babies so they had to buy minivans, but got revenge against responsibilities by buying “the ultimate driving machine.” This is from a 1989 Los Angeles Times restaurant review: “There they are, the men with carefully wrinkled $800 sports jackets . . . the BMW cowboys . . . they’re all here, grazing among the arugula.”

Boomers, says Ingrassia, “had to buy to live, just as sharks had to swim to breathe.” They bought stuff that screamed: “Cognoscenti!” Dove bars — the ultimate ice cream bar? — not Eskimo Pies. Anchor Steam, not Budweiser. Starbucks, not Dunkin’ Donuts. And Perrier, when gas cost less than designer water. In 1978, an early reaction against all this made Ford’s F-150 pickup what it still is, America’s best-selling vehicle.

In 2003, Toyota previewed its second-generation Prius at Whole Foods supermarkets and an international yoga convention. And in the cartoon town of South Park, Priuses became so popular the town developed a huge cloud of “smug.”

For what it’s worth, the Prius, which seats one more than the Chevy Volt, seems to have more utility than the Volt. And much better sales.

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