Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pimp My Prius

I have been in Hollywood all week attending the Digital Hollywood conference. My company is presenting a keynote speech regarding how best to get movies on the Internet quicker and in a way that consumers want. I love coming to this conference because I get to hang in LA and check out the latest trends and thinking.

LA is the driving capital of the world and Hollywood is the fad capital of the world…since they are one in the same place, it follows that the latest car fads are always on display here.

How times have changed…just last year the vehicles of choice were big, blinged out SUVs. The shiny black Cadillac Escalades, paramilitary looking Hummers and sort of prissy looking Range Rovers were all the rage. Of course the ubiquitous Porsche, the LA people's car was and is still always in style.

Move forward to 2008, and there is barely a SUV in site. They seem to have all been replaced by the Toyota Prius Hybrid, the most well known and recognizable of the new gas/electric automobiles that save gas by essentially switching back and forth from a gas engine to an electric motor. In Hollywood, it is as if everyone drove their SUV into some kind of wierd car wash looking thing and drove out the other side in a Prius. (Could be a movie plot..."Car Wash VIII...the Transformation")

For most Hollywood types, the switch to Prius was only necessary to show their concern for the environment, since saving some money on gas is not all that important to their tax bracket. I am told that driving an SUV in Hollywood is now considered "career suicide" and driving one would destine you to a role in a Chuck Norris film or YouTube missive.

But the switch to Prius has created a new problem for Hollywood types…how to you customize this little Japanese wedge to show your individuality? How to you hang bling on something that looks like a sideways drop of water?

Enter the car-customization business, which is big in LA, and it's an easy matter to add a bit of style - some blue racing stripes, beige leather interior - to an otherwise anonymous Prius. Thus, the Prius Hackers have been born.

According to Andrew Tilin, a well know automotive writer, the Prius Hacks can be classified in the following ways.

The Electricity Fiend: This hack adds 260 pounds' worth of lead-acid batteries and channels the extra juice into the car's propulsion system. This Prius can now run on just electricity at up to 34 miles per hour for 10 miles.

The Paranoid: If the grid goes down - by dint of natural disaster, terrorist strike or a spike in demand – there is a Prius that can supply power to your home. They have spliced a heavy-duty outlet right into the car's electrical system and made it so household appliances can be run by a Prius via a standard computer-backup system. When the car's own potent battery loses too much energy, running the engine recharges it. They say "If you are frugal, one tank of gas can power the house for a couple of weeks."

The Fuel Watcher: This hack involves a super accurate fuel gauge. This works with a pocket-size computer, mounted on the car's dash, which displays the precise percentage of fuel remaining and calculates - based on the drivers unique driving habits - how many tenths of a mile they can still go.

The Video Jockey: This really popular Hollywood hack turns the car's monitor into a video screen that plays DVD's or, from a rear-mounted camera, broadcasts an image of what's directly behind the car. It can also feature the drivers best camera angle and, if required, custom lighting from their favorite lighting director.

The Prober: This hack enables the car to drive for about a mile on battery power alone. This helps if you run out of gas…thus the name. They say many Prius users have installed this option.

The Pariah: I learned about this hack from Chris, the sommelier from "Flask Fine Wines in Studio City". This hack involves dropping a Chevy 454 V-8 into the cavity that remains when you pull both the electric motor and wimpy gas engine out of the Prius. Although not as quiet as a regular Prius, this hack is rumored to have saved many spandex clad cylclists on Mulholland Drive (who can't hear the electric version of the Prius coming). Most importantly, the typical driver of the Pyriah hack revels in the look of shock that comes from smoking Porsches from stop light to stop light on Ventura Blvd.

I believe these Prius hacks are just the beginning. Hollywood does not tolerate mediocrity (except in primetime) and a new blinged out generation of Prius are just around the corner. There is even a rumor of a Porsche hybrid, which presumably would be the next big thing. However, as someone who used to own an old Porsche , I would hope that their version of a hybrid would involve the mix of gasoline and nuclear power.

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