By on November 20, 2009

Passing opportunity? (courtesy:egmcartech)

Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, sure seems to think so. “I think long-term, Prius as a nameplate could even outsell Camry as a nameplate, into this next decade,” he tells Wards Auto. When asked if the Prius’s success would trade off with the Camry, he replied in the negative, saying “I think Prius will become just that much stronger.” But it’s been a long time since a Prius-sized vehicle, let alone a hatchback, has been the best-selling car in the US. And perhaps Lentz was merely making the case for a full line of Prius-branded vehicles, an idea he says has not been approved, but remains his “dream.” Prius will need something to push it past its larger sibling. Both models set their all-time annual sales records in 2007, when the Camry sold 473,108 units, while Prius sold only 181,221 units.

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26 Comments on “Will The Prius Usurp The Camry?...”

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    The Prius is still gaining: in ’07, its sales were 38% of the Camry’s; in Oct. 09, its up to 45%

  • avatar

    I can see this happening in the coming years (incidentally, if most Americans were told in 1983 that the Toyota Camry would one day rule the sales roost, they probably would have chuckled).

    At least Toyota is open to this possibility, and isn’t taking the stance GM took with the Chevrolet Impala in the 1960s and early 1970s…where any suggestion that people might not necessarily want a full-size car was treated as something akin to treason. That attitude helped lead to GM’ s downfall.

  • avatar

    It’s not that farfetched a notion.  He did say “nameplate”, which if extended to a fuller line of hybrid cars, could definitely overtake the Camry.  A wagon and CUV come immediately to mind, and maybe a 2-seater.
    As long as they stick the name “Prius” on it, it contributes to the sales numbers.

  • avatar

    I am doubtful.  The older folks, who make up most of the Camry’s customer base like a larger more comfortable car.  These same folks are prudent and miserly as well.  If they do the math,  and these are the type folks who do, they will see that the  Prius does not pay for itself in a normal life cycle at today’s gas prices.

  • avatar

    <i>Prius does not pay for itself in a normal life cycle at today’s gas prices.</i>

    I’m pretty certain we’re talking about the future.   Are you expecting  gas prices to be  lower in 3-5 years than they are now?  I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see gas hit $5.00 when the economy recovers.

    • 0 avatar

      Gas today (when adjusted for inflation) is cheaper than it was in the 70’s.  Even when gas was over $4.00 two summers ago the math didn’t work.  Additionally when predicting future pricing  we have to consider the chances that the precious metals used in batteries will spike, as they too are depleted, thus widening the price gap.  Your argument is valid,  and my crystal ball is only 100% accurate in reverse, but in America comfort  wins when the price is competitive.

  • avatar

    Toyota dealers will not be happy with this news.  Before C4C they were selling Prius’s for invoice or below cost due to the resistance of the high price.  The public is still not willing to pay the price of green, as mentioned above by Bergwerk

  • avatar

    I’d be surprised if it didn’t, just based on my anecdotal experience of people I know who drive Camrys or Accords becoming interested in, and buying Priuses. It makes sense to me: the Prius is pretty damn big inside.

  • avatar
    George B

    I’ve driven both the Camry and the Prius and even a basic 4 cylinder automatic Camry rental car was more pleasant to drive than the Prius.  Neither would be my first choice, but I can see why the Camry sells well as the Impala for the 21st century.  The Camry is a roomy soft riding highway cruiser.  In contrast, the natural environment for the Prius is urban stop and go traffic jams.  In my opinion, a world where the Prius outsells the Camry is a world where driving a car has become an expensive unpleasant chore.

  • avatar

    Future gas prices depend on a lot of things.

    I still think that the outrageous gas prices were the result of all kinds of cash heading oils way and did not really reflect increased consumption for the product, just a bubble that formed from the capital fleeing the stock and real estate markets.  If that is the case, there is no reason to expect a return to sky high prices during the recovery.

  • avatar


    If your right then Toyota will be fine selling 4Runners, Camrys and Avalons.  But, if you’re wrong then Toyota will be fine selling Prius(s). 

    There are any number of scenarios that could result in high oil prices.  Instablity in the Middle East, a revolution in Iran or Saudi Arabia, etc.   The Prius hedges Toyotas bets and ensures it can survive such instability.

    One of the key lessons from the bankruptcy of GM is how vital it is for automakers to hedge their bets and have competative models ready to respond changing consumer preferences.

  • avatar

    My guess is that the Prius is the Camry of the future.  It has all the space, comfort and reliability that the majority of people need, while using less fuel and space.
    I live in a place (Canada) where fuel costs are already high, relative to the US, and have no problem foreseeing the streets full of Prii.
    Even if big oil doesn’t jack up fuel prices because of demand or greed, you can’t forget the CAFE standards of the next few years OR the possibility of higher gas taxes as the ‘Land of the Free’ starts to look more like ‘Land of the Indebted’.

    • 0 avatar

      srogers: Even if big oil doesn’t jack up fuel prices because of demand or greed…
      The price of oil is determined on the commodity market, a price established based on supply, demand, and speculation of future supply and demand.   If “Big Oil” (whatever that means, you did not say so I’m guessing you mean oil refining companies) could magically “jack up” the price due to “greed” then why would the price ever be low?  Have you taken a course in economics?  Do you even know who owns the majority of oil reserves?  Do you have an idea how much of the price of refined fuel is government tax?   Have you considered that if the price of oil “rises” it might be due to currency fluctuations, i.e. the “price” of the dollar dropped?   Right now, considering inflation and what gasoline does, the cost of a gallon of Esso is actually a pretty good deal.

  • avatar

    At one time, almost everything Olds sold was called a Cutlass. We’re going to see the dilution of the Prius nameplate; all hybrids and semi-hybrid Toyotas will be called Priuses.

  • avatar

    I doubt that the Prius will ever usurp the Camry, in fact it remains to be seen if hybrid “technology” has a long-term future at all.
    Sure, hybrids seem like the wave of the future on the heels of a massive oil price bubble, but as the memory of this event fades away how can we see them as anything more than automotive Frankensteins cobbled together out of old-world technology?

  • avatar
    Kyle Schellenberg

    No. The Prius is an instantly recognizable car, but it can’t be designed that way forever.  As it stands it has become more plain as I see their ilk in taxi skin on a daily basis.
    Considering the Camry is already available as a hybrid, the big question is whether Americans are going to change their perception of hatchbacks in the far future.  As it stands, I think most people are still keying in on the hybrid thing not the hatchback thing.  When electric cars become a bit more prevalent and hybrids are available in all shapes and sizes, “Prius” as a model will plateau.

  • avatar

    @mpresley: I own the majority of oil reserves. I jack up the price every chance I get.
    @don1967: very imaginative take on the nature of hybrids. They certainly are klugy, and almost certainly an interim technology. Yet, there is some ingenuity in the concept; using the electrical backup to run the piston engine more efficiently. Furthermore, McKinsey & Co says they are a very expensive way to cut carbon emissions, I can’t remember just how expensive, but something on the order of $150/ton avoided. Measures that make conventional ICE cars more efficient all provide dividends per unit CO2 emissions avoided rather than costing. One wonders what Toyota could have come up with had it pursued that avenue as assiduously as it pursued the hybrid.
    As I’ve said many times before, I prefer my internal combustion straight, like my bourbon.

    • 0 avatar

      David, I do agree that there is some ingenuity, namely in the recapturing of kinetic energy vs. converting it to waste heat.   There’s just something inherently clunky about marrying an electric motor to a dino motor… two technologies that have been around for a hundred years.    “Interim technology” probably says it best.

  • avatar

    In the crazy world of the hybrid sceptic, fighting wars and having the entire economy beholden to the will of oil owners is a good thing. These people should be dismissed and ignored.
    Thank you Toyota for showing the way. May your competitors continue to ignore hybrids.

  • avatar

    If no cases of unintended hypermiling surface, it could have a chance.

  • avatar

    Probably going to cannibalize a few Corolla/Matrix sales, as well.

    That’s the problem with a new, successful vehicle. If the manufacturer has a wide range where some models are near the target market, it’s inevitable there’s going to be losses to the established nameplates. The hope is it will be minimal and the losses are more from conquest sales of other manufacturers.

    One of the best, past examples of this was in 1970 when Chrysler saturated the market with a wide array of musclecars. But instead of gaining sales from Ford or GM, the conquests were within Chrysler’s own models. People bought Challengers instead of Chargers or Super Bees, or they bought Duster 340s instead of higher-profit Barracudas. The musclecar market was dying, anyway, but Chrysler’s overlapping model lines really hastened the exit of most of their performance models. Within a few years, the only musclecars left at Chrysler were the 340-powered, compact A-bodies.

  • avatar

    In the crazy world of the hybrid sceptic, fighting wars and having the entire economy beholden to the will of oil owners is a good thing. These people should be dismissed and ignored.
    Stereotyping and silencing the opposition is a poor substitute for intellectual debate, and an unfortunate hallmark of the eco-movement.

  • avatar

    The Prius, even the previous gen I drove in the Los Angeles area in April and June 09, and got 47-52-62 and 69 MPG (47 on the highway at 75 MPH), is a fantastic car, but I suspect only the return of $5 gas and the introduction of a Prius Wagon and/or coupe will make it match the sales of the capable but boring Camry.

  • avatar

    The Prius does, in fact, pay off – even CR finally came around on this, and even against the (smaller) Corolla. If you compare it to Camries or Accords, it pays off quite quickly (although both are a little bigger). If you do the honest thing and compare to an imaginary car halfway in between the Corolla and Camry at a price halfway in between, it pays off quite nicely too.

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