The popularity of gasoline-electric vehicles snuck up on a lot of industry experts. They weren't ready for the technological sophistication, driveability, comfort, interior room or practicality of the 2004 Toyota Prius.
Those are reasons why the Prius was selected as the 2004 North American Car of the Year by a jury of 50 independent automotive journalists. They're also pretty good reasons why consumers are lining up to buy them.
Unlike the hybrid version of the Honda Civic and soon-to-be-here Ford Escape HEV, the Prius looks different. Its unique appearance immediately identifies the driver as someone who cares, which undoubtedly is part of its appeal to environmentalists.
But more than just the green elite are driving the Prius.
Ron Tonkin, who built a very successful dealership group in Portland, Ore., now lives in the California desert with his wife Marcy. They're sports car people who take off on a road trip at the slightest provocation.
Get this -- Ron and Marcy drove their Prius to Las Vegas for the National Automobile Dealers Association convention. And then raved about it to anyone who would listen.
Ron Tonkin says that he drives a Toyota Prius because he can, because he wants to and because he has a Ferrari in the garage.
Just so you know, Marcy Tonkin likes the Prius too -- but not as much as her Maserati.