By on July 19, 2010

What’s that? We still haven’t plumbed the depths of our bag-o-automotive-sales-data thoroughly enough to have published annual sales for the Toyota Prius? Well, here it is, my truth-starved friends: ten years of Prius sales, culminating in two consecutive years of falling sales. And granted, most nameplates are down over the last two years because the market has been down for a solid two years now. Also, if you think the downturn is due to gas prices, you’ve got a surprise waiting for you after the jump. So has the Prius lost its luster? Could the most culturally significant passenger car of the last ten years be running out of steam (or whatever it runs on), or is this just a natural drop in demand in line with a weak market?

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31 Comments on “Chart Of The Day: Peak Prius?...”

  • avatar

    The Prius is now a mainstream car, and as such, is simply following market trends. But its niche (econobox) will always track gas prices to some extent.

    The Prius also has competition from other cars with a better ROI, such as Hyundai’s Elantra.

    By the way, I’d much rather see a chart of gas prices corrected for inflation, which sort of correlates to its purchase pain.

    • 0 avatar

      …”The Prius also has competition from other cars with a better ROI, such as Hyundai’s Elantra.”

      Many others would substitute that choice with a Civic, Corolla, or 4cyl Camry…cars that have established a reputation.

    • 0 avatar

      In other words, many of us still find that the lower price tags for compacts still outweigh whatever gas savings the Prius grants us.

    • 0 avatar
      Sam P

      Fuel is relatively cheap these days, and there are plenty of other hybrid choices that look like normal sedans (Camry, Fusion, and Altima).

    • 0 avatar


      “Many others would substitute that choice [Hyundai Elantra] with a Civic, Corolla, or 4cyl Camry…cars that have established a reputation.”

      I agree with your other suggestions, and the Elantra was only one example. But the Hyundai Elantra nameplate has been around for 20 years, which seems long enough to have a reputation, and lately is as good as those others.

    • 0 avatar

      “But the Hyundai Elantra nameplate has been around for 20 years, which seems long enough to have a reputation”

      Not sure about what kind of a reputation one’s talking about. A few clicks to Edmunds find out depreciation over 5 years for some Elantra models cost an eye watering 63-66%, much higher than some more reputable competitors others named. What a reputation!!

  • avatar

    You also gotta figure that those sales numbers aren’t going to get any better during 2010 with the unintended acceleration fiasco earlier this year.

  • avatar

    I think there’s definitely some market fatigue for the Prius. People have adapted to $3/gallon gas and unless there’s another sharp spike in fuel prices, it appears demand for such a quirky car has topped out. They’re a dime-a-dozen in the Seattle area and the ’09 update was extremely mild, if you don’t look closely it pretty much looks the same as the previous generation. I think there’s certainly a huge untapped market of potential hybrid owners (like me) who aren’t going to budge until manufacturers can offer better looks and handling, and the price premium comes down.

  • avatar

    Demand has surely softened. Right now, you can strike a good deal on one. And it might be a good idea; gas prices won’t remain low forever.

    • 0 avatar

      That’s one of the benefits of having deep pockets and a solid, long-term corporate strategy. Toyota doesn’t much care if Prius sales are a little soft right now (even with the UA debacle). As with the original, 2001 Prius (which, as the chart shows, didn’t exactly set the sales world on fire for several years), Toyota has the patience and wherewithal (unlike domestic manufacturers) to simply wait for better times when the highest mpg vehicles will be back on top, i.e., as stated, the next major incident that spikes the price of oil dramatically.

      Of course, something that no one’s yet mentioned is, combined with the Katrina run-up, the biggest increase in Prius sales also seems to correlate with the big federal tax credit that used to be awarded to hybrids back then. That $3150 ‘refund’ on the price of a new Prius took a lot of the sting out of the hybrid premium.

  • avatar

    I have a humble request for a graph that shows annual sales of all hybrids, from the late ’90s to today. Because I’d like to see if this can be chalked up to increased competition (Fusion hybrid, the new Honda Insight) or if there really is a drop-off in hybrid sales.

    And yes, people have also just plain adjusted to more expensive gas. Eventually we will all adjust to $4, $5, even $6 gas over the next ten years and it will be much less painful than people predict. Peak oil is over-hyped. Humans are amazingly adaptable animals.

  • avatar

    Still, 150K annually isn’t chicken feed. Hard to think of another nameplate developed from scratch within the last 10 years that sells anything close. Maybe the Fusion, but I don’t count it because it took the place of the Mondeo/Tempo/Granada/Maverick…

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t you mean the Granada/LTD/Taurus?*

      *By this I mean the “OG” mid-size Taurus, not the current “Nu” full-size Taurus, which is really the Crown Vic replacement.

  • avatar

    The banking nightmare has caused Toyota Motor Credit and lenders in general to insist on p.o.i. ( proof of income ) That leaves some of the tragically hip people unfinanceable since a lot of them are self employed and for some strange reason don’t have a profitable business, even though they appear to be living well.

  • avatar

    Perhaps people realized that they are paying too much for the car and ROI on hybrid technology takes much longer than expected.

  • avatar

    Here in Canada the gas price is $1/L, almost $4/Gallon. It should make sense for Prius to sell. Not really! In June Toyota Canada Reduced $4000 on the Prius, Government rebates $2000 tax, still no buyers. One big dealer stuck with 30 something Priuses literally begged me to buy one but I didn’t find the right colour. Another dealer had only got 3 Priuses in stock yet one of them was the white colour that I wanted. Still, I only bought it when the dealer agreed to reduce the price by another $1000 and throw in a couple of freebies, so I got total of $7000+ discount. It makes sense to me at this price. Considering the Prius is going to save me around $1000/year ($10,000/10yr) comparing with any other mid-sized car, I got the equivalent of buying a Camry at around $18,000 after tax. It was a steal!

    Yet, I only saw another 2010 Prius on the road for the last whole month! Quite a few 09 Priuses but no 2010 ones. Toyota should sue the pants off that guy with a run away Prius if they can prove that he was faking it.

    • 0 avatar

      “Toyota should sue the pants off that guy with a run away Prius if they can prove that he was faking it.”Quite the contrary, Toyota should give Jim Sikes a sizable cash award for single-handedly and instantly defusing a potentially catastrophic situation and making the whole Prius UA controversy a joke.

      When Sikes pulled his little, self-aggrandizing publicity stunt on a California freeway back in March, from that point forward, even if it’s found there’s an actual mechanical problem, it will still be viewed with a degree of skepticism and sympathy that Toyota could never have bought for any price.

  • avatar

    Maybe would-be Prius buyers are simply buying other models of hybrids? Prius used to be the only hybrid except for the small stick shift Honda Insight and the mediocre mileage Gen 1 Honda Civic Hybrid. Now, the Prius faces competition from Toyota’s own other hybrid offerings, as well as from those made by other companies.

    Other factors contributing to falling Prius sales:
    – Less states allow solo hybrid drivers in the HOV lane
    – No more Fed tax deduction for Prius
    – Less “the world is ending” gas price hype in the US media
    – Revelation that global warming scientists (I forget which institute’s) had rigged their formulas or data to mislead people, reducing appeal of low carbon emission car
    – US housing market collapse reducing people’s financial strength and access to credit
    – Fatigue – people tired of feeling obligated to worry about enviro cause
    – US news media significantly reduced amount of coverage of global warming issue after Obama took office and focus shifted to US health care, reducing perceived urgency in consumers’ minds to buy enviro car and increasing consumers’ anxiety over healthcare issues and associated tax increases making discretionary car purchase less appealing, respectively.

    • 0 avatar

      @YotaCarFan “Revelation that global warming scientists (I forget which institute’s) had rigged their formulas or data to mislead people, reducing appeal of low carbon emission car”

      Which you can forget again because multiple investigations have shown that this was not true and was really taking some quotes out of context.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Over the next 5-10 model years I think we will see a mainstreaming of hybrid technology to the point where it will be an option as common as automatic transmissions were in the 1960s and air conditioning was in the 1970s. Eventually, most gasoline powered vehicles are likely to be hybrids of some sort.

    • 0 avatar

      While I fully expect to see more hybrids for sale, and more hybrid sales overall, I don’t expect it to ever be quite as common as AC or the automatic transmission. Mild hybrid drivetrains, like the Malibu Hybrid or to a certain extent the Insight, don’t add enough fuel economy to really wow people, and full hybrids like the Prius and Fusion Hybrid still add too much cost for the vehicle to make economical sense for most people. Major breakthroughs in battery technology would certainly help with packaging and cost issues, but you still have to engineer in the electric drive system somewhere.

      I am more interested in seeing things like direct injection, turbocharging, and innovative improvements to the traditional ICE like Fiat’s Multi-Air and Mercedes’ DiesOtto that can be applied easily to entire lines as new engines are rolled out. I’d love to see more diesel development in the US, but I’m starting to think that is just a pipe dream.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think you’ll see diesel (or diesotto or powertrains like VW’s twincharger) because, frankly, they’re nearly as expensive and complex as a hybrid powertrain (if not more) and aren’t proving any more reliable. And they’re likely to go down in price as economies of scale increase, whereas diesel has more or less plateaued.

  • avatar

    It would also be interesting to see this charted against sales for some non-hybrid vehicles. The last two years has not been a booming market for any cars.

  • avatar

    Hopefully, the ‘smug’ market is saturated.

  • avatar

    It might have something to do with the fact that most Prius cars I see in the lots are higher trim levels with leather, roof and lots of equipment and are priced in the high 20’s to low 30’s which is more than many folks I talk to want to spend on a compromise vehicle like this.

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    It is interesting that the debate around whether the Prius is “worth it” or not always links back almost exclusively to gasoline prices, as in, “does the car pay back its price premium in saved fuel costs?” This is indeed a huge part of the appeal (or lack thereof) of Prius, but to reduce it to this one dimension is similar to debating whether to buy Porsche X versus Ferrari Y because one costs $10,000 less per second of 0-60 time. An informal and hopelessly statistically irrelevant survey by yours truly of Prius owners reveals most of them never made the mpg/purchase price calculation, and bought the car for its low emissions profile. And it is interesting to note that Toyota advertising for the car stresses emissions rather than fuel economy. There is more than one reason to buy (or not buy) a Prius than this simplistic equation, just as owners of Camaros versus Mustangs will take into account more factors than just HP or quarter-mile times. I think Ponchoman hit on another part of the answer, too: Prius is the first high-mpg car that let you spend MORE money rather than less. Leaving aside some VW diesels (I say that to head off the assaults of diesel fans!), in 2000 or so if you wanted a high-mpg car you had to trade down to some tinny rattletrap like a Geo or similar. Prius lets one have one’s leather and fuel economy, too. (Realizing, again, yes, that doesn’t “add up,” but heck, if all drivers were perfectly rational buyers of transport we’d never buy a new car again — we’d all be in 5-year-old compacts!)

  • avatar

    The Prius is no longer hip. The moment they started showing up at Wal-Mart, was the moment they jumped the shark.

    Why spend that much money on a glorified golf cart?

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    Gimme a wagon with a sunroof, keep it at $25k and I’m in.

    Oh, and give it a more normal IP.

  • avatar

    Yes, a wagon.

    Make it rear-wheel drive and turbo diesel and I’ve got the money in my pocket. Get the price down to $20k and the weight under 2200 lbs and they’ll sell like snake skin earmuffs.

  • avatar


    Except that they wouldn’t. The Prius is arguably a pretty good value proposition. Yes, it is slow, but with congestion these days being fast is almost not relevent. Its quiet, refined and pretty cheap. The other big selling point is that it is quite usable with the hatchback setup. In fact, the Prius makes way more sense as family bread and butter over the Camry, and arguably looks better (with the optional 17 inch rims).

    Once consumers pick up on this and look beyond the simple hybrid-ness of it…then things might improve.

    One other thing could also lead to the decline: The materials in the new Prius are crap. As in, notably, obviously, crappy. People might actually be starting to notice things like this in Toyotas now.

    Disclaimer: I dislike Toyota and almost all of their products. I am not a fanboy. I cheer at their misfortune (because of they deserve it). But still, I do see the benefits of some products.

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