A lot has changed since it first went on sale in 1997.
The Toyota Prius has rightly earned its place in automotive history for being the first mass-produced hybrid car. It first launched way back in 1997 in Japan and arrived in the US three years later. Needless to say, it's been a huge success and it still remains the best-selling hybrid in America. However, those sales are on the decline. The Detroit Bureau recently asked Toyota about this potentially troubling sales trend and Toyota admitted it'll soon be time to give the Prius a major rethink.
"For the next Prius we have to think about to… separate (it) from the rest of the Toyota line-up," said Deputy Chief Engineer Koichi Kaneko. However, Kaneko stressed that the Prius would not become a pure electric vehicle or a fuel cell vehicle. It will remain a hybrid.
What Kaneko almost certainly means is that the hatchback body style may no longer work. As we already well know, car buyers today want crossovers, and conventional car sales are down as a result. The Prius, because of its hybrid powertrain, has not suffered the same dramatic sales drop as, say, the Ford Focus, but the writing is on the wall. Better to take the initiative rather than react. "Toyota has to be ready to respond to these trends," Kaneko added. "I don't think Prius can be the same as before. Our role is to figure out what can do with it. We need to find a new direction."
For now, Toyota just launched the Prius all-wheel drive variant, which will hopefully find lots of buyers in parts of the country where winter strikes hard. It's also worth noting that the Prius is not the automaker's best-seller in the US. That title belongs to – you guessed it – the RAV4. Although the new RAV4 also offers a hybrid variant, the Prius still very much remains a critical component of Toyota's lineup, and it's not about to give up on it anytime soon.