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The New Best-Selling Hybrid: the Toyota Prius

California has chosen its favorite car, and it's the hybrid Prius

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The Toyota Prius is California's favorite car, and one of America's favorites, too.

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When it comes to environmental awareness, California takes a back seat to nobody. If you needed any proof of that, consider the fact that the best-selling car in the Golden States is the Toyota Prius, the hybrid vehicle with EPA gas-mileage figures that blow the doors off most other cars.

Just How Popular Is the Prius?

In 2012, Toyota sold over 60,600 Priuses (Prii?) in California, edging out the Honda Civic, which had held the best-seller's crown for the previous two years. And it's not just California that's reveling in Prius-madness -- the vehicle is the best-selling hybrid nationwide, too, according to Mother Nature News.

And these sales numbers, strong as they are, might not tell the whole story behind the Prius' popularity: The figures cited don't include fleet sales, rental agency sales, commercial sales or government customers. Clearly, the Toyota Prius has tapped into something big. But what?

The answer may lie in the unique position that drivers in California find themselves in. Not only does the state routinely post some of the highest gas prices in the United States, according to NBC News, but commuters there tend to have some of the longest and most arduous commutes anywhere. Three cities in the Bay Area -- Antioch, Pittsburg and Novato, all bedroom communities of San Francisco -- have the longest average commute times in the country.

So while other Americans might be reluctant to break their SUV habit, Californians are shedding their gas-guzzling monster-mobiles like a dog sheds fur. And Toyota is right there to pick up where Detroit left off.

Great Gas Mileage Helps

Aside from boasting good looks, comfort and rock-solid Toyota reliability, the Prius turns in some eye-popping EPA gas mileage estimates. There are four different models of the Prius now available, and the least-efficient of these -- the Prius V -- gets a combined city/highway average of 42 mpg, according to the Department of Energy. The other three models, including the new plug-in hybrid, all get an average of 50 mpg.

Take that, Ford.

And speaking of Ford, the Los Angeles Times makes note of the difference nationwide in sales of Ford's popular F-series pickup trucks. Though it's a bestseller nationwide, the truck placed seventh in California, below sales of the Hyundai Elantra and the BMW 3-series vehicles.

This fact "speaks to the high percentage of [California] drivers that commute long distances," Alec Gutierrez, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, told the Los Angeles Times. "The need to travel 30 to 40 miles to and from work per day makes the prospect of owning a Ford F-series or Chevrolet Silverado an expensive one."

As if Prius needed any more love, Consumer Reports calls the Prius the nation's best buy on the new car lot. "It's extremely reliable and roomy, rides well, has secure handling and is super-cheap to operate," the reviewers gush.

Is a Green Car in Your Future?

These facts bode well for the future of ultra-efficient vehicles. Indeed, Nissan is planning 15 new hybrid models on top of their already likeable all-electric Nissan Leaf, according to Treehugger, and other car makers are launching new hybrids almost every month. At this rate, one can almost hear the bell tolling for gas-sucking dinosaurs.

So ask yourself -- what's in your driveway? An overpriced, inefficient, greenhouse-gas-spewing troglodyte, or a clean, efficient vehicle? If the old axiom "As goes California, so goes America" still has any truth left in it, odds are your next vehicle will be a sweet little hybrid or electric car.

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