Saturday, December 02, 2006

Hybrid cars gain star power

By Peter Viles

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- California has the ultimate car culture -- it is often said that there, you are what you drive.

California is also a capital of air pollution, and of efforts to cut down auto emissions. Put those three factors together and you have an unusual trend: a status symbol in reverse -- a cool car that is not exactly a high-performance vehicle.

Car salesman Chris Cutright has sold so-called 'hybrid' cars to many Hollywood stars.

"I sold Cameron Diaz her car; Leonardo DiCaprio has bought three Prius' from us, we're talking to Alec Baldwin right now, he's certainly interested in the car," Cutright said.

The Toyota Prius runs on both petrol and electric power. It is Toyota's entry in the race to develop mass-produced, low-emissions cars. But it is not cheap. The Prius is smaller than the Toyota Corolla, sold for less than $14,000, but costs 50 percent more at $21,000.

(Picture Right: The appearance of the Prius gives stars a 'veil' to hide behind)

Toyota plan to use the hybrid technology in future models.

Expectations of developing electric cars have faded as the cars are too expensive and need constant charging. Chrysler is developing the hydrogen-powered fuel cell car, but they are years from mass production.

Stars appreciate the Prius for its discreet appearance.

Baldwin said: "The Prius is a great public relations veil, it's a shroud I can wear that will hide me. No one would ever dream I would be the guy behind the wheel of that car, that's great."

But in Los Angeles, you are what you what are you if you drive this quiet little car?

For Baldwin, "you're a genius with foresight, you are a far seeing genius."

"Certainly somebody who's environmentally conscious," Cutright said.


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