By on February 1, 2012

When I called Toyota’s new Aqua / Prius C affordable compact hybrid first a “gamechanger”, then an “engineering feat,” this attracted the attention of self-styled jargon vigilantes. They demanded equal platitudes to be bestowed on domestic models. In the meantime, the Japanese game changer threatens to change Toyota’s best laid plans: It sells ten times better than expected.

Someone at Toyota told The Nikkei [sub] today that the company “received about 120,000 orders for its new Aqua compact hybrid between its Dec. 26 release and Jan. 31, 10 times the monthly sales target of 12,000 vehicles.” Toyota markets the car as the Aqua in Japan. In the U.S. and other markets, it will be called Prius C.

These orders go on an already big pile. When the car was formally launched on December 26 in Tokyo, Toyota “had received orders for 60,000 Aqua hybrid cars ahead of its launch,” says the Wall Street Journal. At that time, the waiting period for the car after an order was placed was said to be four months.

The onslaught of orders puts Toyota in a quandary. Not only have they planned for 12,000 units a month.These plans are also hard to, well, change. As Prius C Project Manager, Masahiko Yanagihara, had patiently explained to this reporter, the Aqua/Prius C is being built in the Iwate plant of subsidiary Kanto Auto Works in Kanegasaki. This plant has a maximum capacity of 30,000 units a month, if Toyota pulls out all the stops and works overtime. However, the plant also makes “other cars, such as the Ractis, Belta, Blade etc.” Until Toyota finds ways to expand its production capacity, the car will remain in short supply.

This shortage will only be exacerbated when the car is launched worldwide this year, while production remains back in Japan. Dubbed as “the world’s most fuel efficient hybrid car,” the Prius C is slated for sale in 50 countries, including the U.S. In Europe, Toyota will release a new small hybrid based on the Yaris compact. It will use the same hybrid system as the Aqua. Timing for the overseas launch has not been released. In the U.S., the Prius C is said to have a starting price of around $19,000. A look at gasoline prices and world news says that an affordable 53 mpg (EPA, city) car could not have come at a better time. If there would not be that bottleneck called Iwate. And the Yen.

Toyota has been hesitant in establishing hybrid production outside of Japan. The numbers seem to back this up. The Prius is Japan’s best selling car. This year, the title could go to the Aqua/Prius C. Outside of Japan, hybrids are still a niche play. The market share of hybrids in the U.S. was 2.11 percent in 2011, down from 2.78 percent in 2009. The Prius C is the little car that could change that.

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60 Comments on “Toyota Drowns In Orders For Game Changing Engineering Feat Prius C...”

  • avatar

    This car hits “all the right buttons” – I’ve been watching it for some time. I’ve been considering a move to an auto tranny hatchback, but with the stipulation that it be more fuel efficient in my short commutes than my ’08 Elantra (27mpg). I’m sure this little guy could probably raise that by 10MPG, no sweat.
    But, I see that short supply will have this car going for well over MSRP once it hits these shores…

    • 0 avatar

      Even though I would not be interested in any kind of Hybrid or EV, I can see where this car will have a very large following in a very short time. Especially among the young.

      I believe it will blow the sales numbers for the Leaf, the Volt and all other EVs and Hybrids right out of the water and may even set new records, for precisely the reasons you mentioned.

      When compared to ICE cars in this size and weight class, this new Prius C could well be the gift that keeps on giving for many people with commutes longer than 35 miles. And they don’t have to look for a charging plug when they get to their destination.

      It isn’t just the Japanese that like little EVs. My granddaughter tells me that college kids are also interested in EVs and Hybrids but are not averse to her 2011 Elantra either.

  • avatar

    there’s really only one metric that matters and that’s how many you sell

    let’s not talk about Volts or Leafs or various white elephants

    show me a $20k car that is selling many multiples of its monthly projections

    toyota are on a winner just like the 86

    the Camry? not so much

    • 0 avatar

      At least with the Leaf, it’s worth calculating total cost of ownership given its price and [taxpayer-funded] subsidy because its net price ends up in the mid-20s. The Volt’s not worth considering.

      But you’re right about momentum; the C just builds on Toyota’s death grip on the hybrid market – good for them.

      • 0 avatar

        Which is a hard thing to explain to a new Volt owner who thinks because he uses little gas in his (very) short daily commute that while it is great he’s using less fuel, economically, it’ll take him nearly 10 years to recover the price premium he paid for the Volt.

        I like the “C.” If the price point does hit $19,000 and it can stay reasonable without a ton of options (and price gauging), then I see a success for Toyota with it. It’d be a car I could see my mother driving (small, very fuel efficient and a Toyota…the trifecta).

      • 0 avatar

        Funny you mention premium it will take to back on the Volt, but don’t mention it on the Prius C. A Yaris starts at about 14k. You are paying a 5k premium for the Prius C. It might be a good while before you pay that back as well. I don’t know if it is 10 years worth, but it is certainly a very long time.

      • 0 avatar

        Steven, check out Quentin’s post below regarding standard equipment on the Prius. Try to get a Yaris close to that bumps it up to 17 grand.

      • 0 avatar

        It’s better to compare life-cycle costs than yearly costs. Fuel and maintenance costs are more dependent on mileage than time, so it would be better to describe a mileage to break-even than time to break-even.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ll concede this car will be a game changer if it does the following:

      1) Gets a true 50+ mpg as driven in the fashion most urban commuters drive (regardless as to how fast/slow the acceleration)

      2) Has the ability to drive 75 mph on the expressway relatively effortlessly, without causing the driver to think he/she may be blown off the road by crosswinds or nearby semitrucks, and doesn’t sound like it’s screaming

      3) Leaves the dealer lots at a non-markup 19k with air conditioning, pw/pl and some other basics like rear defrost and a stereo (i.e. Toyota doesn’t allow dealer price gouging)

      Many households will buy one of these for use as their primary or second car, to be designated as the daily errand/task master.

      P.S. – There are whisper rumors that Toyota has actually achieved as high as 83 mpg on its mixed driving cycle tests with the Prius C, though they won’t confirm this.

      • 0 avatar

        1) That is hard to promise because, as Top Gear showed us, if you push a Prius as hard as possible, the gas mileage plummets. That is true with any vehicle, though. My friend got 6mpg on the first 2 tanks of gas in his V10 M5. Driven like a sane person, though, it is very easy to get the EPA ratings for the Prius and Prius v. I don’t expect the c to be much different.
        2) This might be a taller order. It is a small, very light car with a pretty sizable side profile and generally designed for city driving. Heavy crosswinds will probably be unpleasant.
        3) Standard: 3.5-in. full color TFT multi-information display, hands-free phone capability, USB port with iPod® connectivity, automatic climate control, tilt-telescopic steering wheel with audio, climate, Multi-Information Display and Bluetooth® hands-free controls, and remote keyless entry with illuminated entry (copy and pasted for Toyota’s press release). I’m sure AC, power windows, and power locks are standard.

        That 83mpg is on the Japan cycle which is extremely optimistic. I expect that people that don’t do a lot of interstate (70mph+) driving will see well over 50mpg on average.

      • 0 avatar

        The regular Prius gets 80-something mpg on the Japanese test cycle. Something’s seriously wrong with that test.

  • avatar

    So with billions of dollars of Government subsidies GM can’t even GIVE away its Volts, and Toyota makes a killing in the hybrid market. I’m guessing if Toyota made a plug-in variant of this little rollerskate they’d really have something going for them.

    Will I buy one?

    No. I don’t live in a hip urban area where a car is just something to be seen in ocassionally so I can afford to make a statement with it, and unless things have changed drastically from their other cars, Toyota still has no damn idea how to make a small car fit a tall American man.

    • 0 avatar

      At 6’6″, I find my 05 xB1 to be very beautiful inside, with a headroom spec of 46″. But it’s not beautiful on the outside, so probably not cool enough for your neighborhood.

    • 0 avatar

      Is “tall American man” code for something? I am a tall and carry a spare tire with me at all times, yet I fit comfortably into subcompact cars. Even Miatas.

      • 0 avatar

        I can’t drive just about any small Japanese car (including a Miata) without my knees touching the wheel. Seat down and back all the way, steering wheel all the way up, my knees need to be splayed out and are still touching the wheel at the 5 o’clock position. It’s uncomfortable as hell and why I haven’t driven/owned anything smaller than a Camry because of that (the wife’s Impreza just barey fits).

        I’m 6’3”. Can’t be that tall and I’ve driven the Focus and Fiesta and have no problems clearing the steering wheel. My guess is because those cars have a telescoping wheel to get it out of the way, something most Japanese manufacturers are too cheap to include.

      • 0 avatar

        Thank you for referencing the Miata – it pretty much obliterates your argument, as there is a very set average driver package that fits in that damnable car. I should know, I’ve tried to make it work a half dozen times.

        I am 6’6, 360#, and played left guard for most of college half a dozen years ago. While I realize I am on the extreme end of the bell curve, I have quite a few 6’x” friends who are more average proportioned that can not get in any compact shipped over to us from the rising sun. It’s unfortunate – we reallllllly want these cars; they are small, usually fun, easy to park, and great on gas. But there is no way we can own them without removing one (or more) appendages. Hell, I drive a 190e cossie right now and it’s the smallest thing I think I could comfortably own.

      • 0 avatar

        I’m just shy of 6′ and wear 32″ length pants, so I’m not particularly tall. But the seats in most small cars are too close to the pedals for me. I tried out a lot of cars at the recent car show. The Fiat 500 was the most comfortable. My niece (5′-6″ maybe) sat in a Scion iQ and had to move the seat all the way back. It was touching the rear seat. I didn’t even try that one. They would have needed the jaws of life to get me out.

      • 0 avatar

        Tall means tall. American means fat.

      • 0 avatar

        Who are most Japanese manufacturers? Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics have tilting and telescoping steering columns. Maybe people don’t know where the levers are located, which would explain why a VW executive thought one that didn’t rattle was a revelation.

        That being said, I clearly recall that the 2003 Corolla that was so critically acclaimed at the time had a knee bolster that was more like a knee barrier to me. My friend’s short father loved his loaded one though, having traded in a top of the line Avalon for it after retiring from Calty.

    • 0 avatar

      With all the jokes he makes about Americans’ weight, I wonder if Jeremy Clarkson is considered fat himself?

      I have to agree with the smaller Japanese cars probably not fitting taller people. I’m around six feet, and my problem is that a lot don’t telescope the steering wheel enough to fit my driving style (and my admitted tendency to sit with a bit of a slouch. No mommy, I don’t need your admonitions to straighten-up, or out (my life), thank you very much).

  • avatar

    I can’t imagine how they could have failed to realize what a hit this would be. If they do manage to make their US launch date, it will quickly sell out here as well. I hope they’ve managed to greatly increase production by around 4 years from now when I’ll be in the market for a new car to replace my Fit, because if it’s not unobtainium it’ll be one of the top cars on my shopping list.

    • 0 avatar

      “it will quickly sell out here as well.”

      I doubt it. This car is a subcompact. It’s about the same length as are the Honda Fit, Mazda 2, and Ford Fiesta hatchback.

      Subcompacts are (no pun intended) a tiny part of the US car market. I doubt that this car is going to increase the overall share of subcompacts in the US car market. It might give the Honda Fit a run for its money, but in terms of overall sales, that doesn’t mean much.

      The Wall Street Journal also fails to provide some context. Unlike the US, retail car sales in Japan frequently involve pre-order sales. Before the tsunami, a typical wait time was about a month. Following the tsunami, wait times for all sorts of cars increased up to about four months. While it does sound as if the car will be a hit in Japan, the lack of context in the article somewhat overstates the degree.

      • 0 avatar

        As mentioned, I have selfish reasons for hoping you’re right!

      • 0 avatar

        In this case “selling out” doesn’t necessarily mean its a blockbuster. If their factory buildable numbers are already constrained and demand in Japan is beyond their expectation, they’ll probably reduce the already limited allocation they were planning to sell in the US.

        I’m hearing anecdotally an awful lot of interest in the Prius C in the crowds I deal with in both the northeast and the Deep South. That’s an unusually broad appeal. Guessing this means the first year will be short supply and infuriating dealer premiums. If I were interested I’d plan on having to wait till 2013.

      • 0 avatar

        The main objection that I hear from practical people about high-MPG cars is that they’re expensive enough that you don’t see a financial payback immediately. This car may be perfect for some of the people who make that argument.

        My officemate, for instance, is considering a Fit. He’s approaching 40 and he and his wife are not going to have kids, so a the car just needs hold him and his wife, and a weekend’s worth of luggage, and he’s practical enough that he doesn’t want an oversized vehicle just-cuz. He’s give this car a test drive for sure.

        It does need to be competent on the highway for his purposes, though, since they regularly make long weekend trips. Which is why he (in particular) is interested in a car with low operating costs.

        As an environmentally-aware dad, though, I have much different considerations for my own transportation — and much tighter finances. My wife drives a Prius, but I had to compromise (and I needed something that can handle external cargo better than the Prius) on my most recent car purchase. Fortunately, my good old bicycle is cheap, efficient, the applicable to my commute — and the good riding days of Spring are only a couple of weeks away! I mention this contrast between myself and my officemate because bringing Prius-class MPGs people who care more about green bills than green trees *IS* be a game changer.

  • avatar

    I had not read your previous articles on this car.

    $20K for a 50 MPG car?

    Definitively a gamechanger. This will be the car that mainstreams hybrid technology.

    When some lame pinko propagandist shoots the “Who killed the Volt” film 15 years from now, the answer will have to be “The Prius C”

  • avatar

    Maybe GM should shut down the Volt assembly line and contract to make Prius C for Toyota. At least then they would actually be “building the car that America wants”.

  • avatar

    I really like small cars, but I have never liked hybrids, but I like this car for some reason. I think I need something a but more substantial than this to suit my outdoorsy lifestyle however.

    Might be a nice in town runner though.

  • avatar

    “They demanded equal platitudes to be bestowed on domestic models. ” Wrong, you missed the point. Which was if one writer is criticized for using such terms for one car (doesn`t matter its origin to me) then lets be consistent and not use it for another. Conversely, which is where I sit, it is accurate for the C and if accurate for another car then don`t criticize it’s use there.

  • avatar

    “It sells ten times better than expected.”

    Hyperbolize much? I feel your use of math bring Mark Twain to mind. To say that it is selling at 10x the planning rate is a little silly. that assumes that each month will see another 120,000 new orders. As you well know, the orders build up after the order queue is opened. I will bet you any money in the world that Toyota doesn’t get 1,440,000 orders for Prius C’s this year.

  • avatar

    I really hate most vehicles Toyota made from 2003 till now, but it seems like they are starting to get back on track again. I like the Prius C. I can see my mom driving one. I’m glad to see there is a lot of demand for it. I also love the new 86/GT86/BRZ. Keep it up Toyota!

    • 0 avatar
      Sammy B

      Agree. I’d love if they had a few more niche products too [probably scions mainly]. Fix the next gen xB, maybe do something with the BAT, and bring over a small mpv [would love a Previa replacement (Estima), but I doubt the could slot that in below the 4cyl Sienna as a proper mazda5 competitor. pity]

      Next up: improve your sedans. simple fix: once again offer a V6 manual transmission Camry. Or find a way to de-content the IS250 to hit a $22K price point…eat the acura ILX’s lunch! or offer an 86 in sedan form those of us w/ child seats to worry about :)

  • avatar

    All of the comparisons to the Volt are a little misplaced. This is a subcompact car. Very small. Most people will not consider it. It is in a different class that the Volt (size wise). Now, consider the following.

    A Yaris starts at 14k. This is starting at 19k. A subcompact that is this pricey and gets 2 more mpg city than the Prius. I think they have priced themselves out of the market really. 5k buys a huge amount of gas. Lets do some math using the EPA site.

    Prius c
    53/46 (50 combined)
    1,017 per year in fuel

    Yaris (automatic, manual fuel economy is better)
    30/35 (32 combined)
    1,589 per year in fuel

    8 years to pay off the 5k premium at that rate.

    This is nearly 20k (and will be more after including taxes) for this car. I don’t see buying a fuel efficient roller skate and thinking it is a good buy after 8 years to pay off the premium. Financing makes this problem worse as well.

    • 0 avatar

      The base 3 door starts at $14,100. The 5 door, which is more comparable, IMO, starts at $15,140. 2 more years have just been knocked off the payback. The 5 door L doesn’t come with bluetooth (phone or audio streaming), steering wheel controls, cruise control, or auto climate control. I think those 4 items combined are worth $1k in the True Delta feature comparison. 2 more years down. So, you’re looking at a 4 year payback assuming bluetooth, climate control, cruise control, and steering wheel controls are worth $1k to you. By the time you’ve financed this for 4 years, you’ve made up the difference in gas savings and now have a more valuable vehicle for the used market. Factor in less maintenance (brakes last way longer, no starter, no alternator), and you are likely ahead.

      I’m not saying that people shopping for a $15k car will spring for the $19k Prius c. I’m saying that people shopping for a $19k car aren’t likely to step down to a base 5 door Yaris that is not equipped nearly as well as the c to save $4k.

      • 0 avatar

        Where do you see the standard equipment of the Prius c? On the Toyota’s website, the features are listed, but it doesn’t say standard. In fact, it doesn’t say much.

        On maintenance, I agree, it might be cheaper on some parts like brakes, but you shouldn’t be replacing starters and alternators on cars. Those usually last a very long time (especially modern starters and alternators).

      • 0 avatar

        I just googled “prius c standard features” and this was the first non-ad link. Ctrl+F, type “standard”.

    • 0 avatar

      This kind of calculation is always misleading. You are forgetting that the more expensive hybrid, will fetch a higher price at resale time. Just like the TDI VW’s. Sure it’s more expensive at purchase time- but the higher resale value makes up for it.

      Also- You are making the assumption that gas will stay at the current $3.60 for the next 8 years. Is this something you’re willing to bet on? When gas spikes to $5 a gallon due to some whatever Persian Gulf incidence, you can bet the Prius C will be fetching top dollars on the used car market.

    • 0 avatar

      3 door Yaris automatic starts at $14,840, 5 door Yaris automatic starts at $15,140 ex delivery. The vast majority of Americans drive automatics.

      So, it’s more like a $4,000 premium, although the base Prius c will be between the L and LE with remote keyless entry, power mirrors and windows and bluetooth.

      It’s still a significant difference, and with our 45-55 heavy driving we might not be able to make up the difference at current gas prices, but anyone who has to drive any distance and deal with congested traffic would do better. But, beyond the payback, there’s also the joy of smooth, quiet city driving.

      If you want cruise control you have to go for the LE plus pay for a $250 cruise option (3d $15,875 5d $16,350). We’ve yet to see what Toyota will force onto people who want cruise (like my wife). (Honda rape Insight LX buyers for about $1,800).

    • 0 avatar

      8 Years? It depends. Gas prices could increase (the thinking is $5 by summer… I do doubt that). There’s comfort in getting some insulation against that uncertainty.

      You can compare purchase on base price but you realize your actual expense based on the total depreciation you must absorb over the time you hold the car. The Prius has held its value very well, especially when gas prices rise but even when they don’t. We can expect the C to do the same, I think.

      And, even against an inexpensive vehicle like the Yaris, the C will do far better in stop-and-go traffic. If those are conditions one faces regularly, the fuel savings may be more impressive than the EPA numbers suggest.

      I ran a little experiment some years ago and I was able to improve my fuel economy on my commute by a factor of 1.4 by switching the engine off whenever I had the chance and I don’t have a highly stop-and-go commute. I probably could have done better but in many situations I didn’t switch the engine off (I expected the light to be short or I might inconvenience other drives in some way… or I just forgot). HSD won’t forget and it gets energy recapture, too.

  • avatar

    I suspect that the average F250 driver wouldn’t notice this car as he drove over it like a speed-bump.

    The Prius is already a hit. Not sure Americans are willing to go too much smaller.

    • 0 avatar
      PJ McCombs

      I remember reading the latest-generation subcompacts (Fiesta, Mazda2, Accent etc) were not only selling well, but often optioned up to compact prices, suggesting size wasn’t the main priority. Is that still holding up as the ‘new’ of these models wears off?

      If so, against a $19K Yaris, a $19K 50MPG Prius C looks like pretty good value.

      • 0 avatar

        Well, it was about 46k subcompact and mini-compact cars sold in December (that doesn’t include the boxy small cars). That includes over 3k Minis and 700 Insights.

        Surveys suggest younger buyers want hybrids so may be ready to pay the premium, even if they aren’t going to claw it all back while they own it.

  • avatar

    Folks- EPA already released the mpg ratings for the Prius C: 53/46 cty/hwy 50 combined. In other words, it gets the same 50mpg combined as the regular Prius. I would call this an egregious failure. The expectation built up so far has all been dashed.

    The only selling point it has now is that it’s $3000 cheaper than the regular Prius.

    • 0 avatar

      I figured with less weight and a smaller engine than a regular Prius, the C would have to do better mileage-wise. Guess it boils down to the aerodynamics in this case.

      • 0 avatar

        It is running a different engine as well. To me, 53 city over the 51 city regular Prius is a VERY SMALL improvement. For something this much smaller, I would have expected a better output. Maybe it will perform better in real life.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, it’s only $3,000* cheaper and is more efficient for both city-heavy drivers and hypermilers. Why did they even both releasing it?

      (Why do manufacturers sell subcompacts at all? They’re barely any more efficient (EPA) than compacts and only a few thousand cheaper.)

      * Actually the base is $5,000 cheaper on MSRP, since the 2012 Prius liftback will be $24,000, but the base c will be missing some conveniences from the liftback Two.

  • avatar

    Honda will have to watch out – the Insight and CR-Z haven’t been received all that well, and since the public is very familiar with the “Prius” name, the few potential Insight/CR-Z customers may not even give those cars a second look.

    It also doesn’t help that the CR-Z lacks a rear seat and doesn’t know what it wants to be.

  • avatar

    While I think that this car will sell quite well for a small car in the US, I think it shows the silliness of going hybrid in this size car. Tiny car that is not going to be driven far saving 10mpg over an already fuel efficient tiny car just does not make sense when the price premium is taken into account. Regardless of whether the resale value is better or not. Just stick a 1.2l-1.4l conventional drivetrain in it, save $3K, and call it a day at ~40mpg.

    I’d rather have a base Fiat 500 and save $3500. Buys a ton of gas, and the Fiat will be a lot more fun to drive if the little Prius drives anything like the big one.

  • avatar

    I have to question Toyota management on this one. They had to know how successful a more compact and cheaper hybrid would be. There are a lot of people out there who want such a hybrid to lessen the pollution on their crowded cities or countries alone, never mind saving costs on gas that is way more expensive than here and being wasted away in traffic jams.

    Is it innate conservatism that makes them want to relatively slowly devote production resources to it? Do they think it’s going to cannibalize sales of the best-selling car in Japan or other, higher-margin vehicles? Are they afraid of going all-out to grab market share from the other Japanese auto makers because they think that’s going to lead to a price war like in the States with all those rebates on cars and trucks?

    Of course there are lots of factors that go into making these decisions. It’s just that we don’t know the reasoning behind them, like when I wonder why they decided to maybe forgo a year or year-and-a-half of Prius C production by making the battery smaller instead of raising the roof to the detriment of drag coefficient numbers.

    • 0 avatar

      The Prius is the top selling car in Japan, but after that comes the Fit and a bunch of Kei cars. The Japanese like small cars. There are also more incentives coming for buying efficient cars. So, I’m not surprised about the demand.

      They may have been a bit conservative, but they may also have been constrained by available manufacturing capacity that builds the right platform. Since they aimed to lower cost, they wouldn’t have wanted to do major retooling on another plant.

  • avatar

    I wonder if the C is going to cannibalize sales of the regular Prius to some extent. For some people, the attraction is probably in the 50mpg rating. These people may not mind a smaller car and might enjoy the cheaper base price.

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