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Is GM Foolish to Knock Prius Owners?

Monday, 13 Dec 2010 | 1:48 PM ET

The statement was clear. What's unclear is what fallout, if any, will come from GM CEO Dan Akerson calling the Toyota Prius a "geek mobile."

2010 Toyota Prius
Getty Images
2010 Toyota Prius

The Prius has been an unqualified hit for Toyota, and when was the last time GM introduced a "game changer"?

It's left a lot of people wondering what right Akerson has to call Prius owners geeks.

The truth is Akerson is saying what many in Detroit have felt for a long time. While executives and engineers at the Detroit 3 have told me they admire the success Toyota has had with the Prius, few like the styling of the hybrid hit. And yes, off camera I've had many of them tell me they think the Prius is bland and boring. Essentially they view it as a car for those who lack passion. But few have said it publicly, until Akerson didon Friday in Washington.

Dumb move?

Probably not.

GM is not out to win over Prius buyers with its all new Chevy Volt hitting showrooms. Akerson and GM engineers think the extended range electric car will attract buyers who want fuel economy and a little bit of style. And with the Volt priced well above the Prius, GM will likely attract a different type of buyer.

And there's one more thing Akerson's "geek" comment does. It send a signal to GM employees, dealers and fans that they should finally stand up to Toyota. Are Prius owners geeks? Of course not. But Akerson and GM are determined to take the luster off the Japanese car. From their point of view, it's time to take the fight to Toyota.

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UPDATED to reflect a copy editing error.

___________________________ Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.comand Follow me on Twitter @LeBeauCarNews

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  • Phil LeBeau is a CNBC auto and airline industry reporter based in the Chicago bureau and editor of the Behind the Wheel section on CNBC.com.

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