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Is Toyota About To Do The Unthinkable?

Rumor / Comments

Times change and sales of this once popular hybrid are dropping.

Other hybrid vehicles may come and go but few will ever reach the same level of awareness as the Toyota Prius. The Prius is the most successful hybrid nameplate of all time but its job of ushering drivers into a greener lifestyle may no longer be necessary. Sales of the Prius have been slowing year-over-year, with sales falling below the 100,000 unit mark in 2018 for the first time since 2004. According to Bloomberg, the mighty Prius is even being outsold by the Ford Fusion Hybrid (a car that has already been discontinued).

"The Prius is the model that got us to where we are today; it led the charge to electrification, but now it's facing so much competition," Jeff Schuster, senior vice president of forecasting for researcher LMC Automotive said in an interview with Bloomberg. "The Fusion is having a little bit of a last hurrah to send it off on a higher note. A hybrid doesn't have to look like a science experiment anymore. And to an extent, the Prius still does."

Monthly sales of the Prius slid again in May, bringing the model's year-to-year drop to 39%. Unlike when it was first introduced, there are now many green alternatives that look much more mainstream. "It's a competitive business," said Bob Carter, Toyota's executive vice president for US sales. "There are some people who trade in their Prius for a Model 3. I'm well aware of that. But it's still a very small part of the market."

It isn't just electric cars like the Model 3 taking away Prius sales, there's some internal competition as well. The RAV4 is Toyota's most popular model and the company expects half of the sales to be the hybrid, which we think is better in almost every way than the gas model. Toyota now offers an all-wheel-drive version of the Prius but we think people will still be drawn to the improved looks and higher ride height of the RAV4 hybrid.

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"When Prius started, it needed to really change the conversation, but now hybrids are part of the landscape," said Stephanie Brinley, principal auto analyst for researcher IHS Markit. "The need Prius had to stand out no longer exists. Hybrids are just part of Toyota's lineup, and most models offer them in an affordable way."

We think it may be time to set the Prius to pasture but Toyota's senior manager of small-car marketing, Sam De La Garza, stated that Toyota isn't ready to give up on the Prius just yet. "We're committed to Prius," De La Garza said. "It has been the entry point to the Toyota brand for thousands and thousands of customers. Without Prius over the last 19 years, where would Toyota be?"