By on November 9, 2016

2016 Toyota Prius TouringIt’s an all-new version of a car that generally finds 140,000 U.S. buyers per year. But the Toyota Prius is quickly fading from the American mainstream.

There’s no doubt that hybrids, in a general sense, are struggling. Combined sales of hybrids and plug-in hybrids are down 6 percent in the United States this year, according to HybridCars.com.

But the Toyota Prius — the all-new, fourth-generation version of the sector’s progenitor —  is fading at double speed. Despite its newness and its vast objective improvements, Prius sales are down 12 percent this year.

And October was way, way, way worse than that. Much worse. 

Year-over-year, Prius sales in October tumbled 44 percent, undoubtedly hindered by a recall announced mid-month. Only 5,421 copies of the Toyota Prius were sold in the United States in October 2016. That was the lowest October figure for the Prius since 2003, a year before George W. Bush was elected the second time.

October 2016 represented the lowest-volume month for the Prius since June 2011, more than a year before Barack Obama was elected a second time, when the Tōhoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami wreaked havoc on supply of Japan-built cars.2016_Toyota_Prius_032_C475F57FB73C22488071C4EA551C57C29546966D
It might get worse in November. The recall announced earlier in October, related to the possibility of an inoperative parking brake, transitioned into a stop-sale notice in the final days of October.

The level of competition certainly does the Prius no favors when examining the car’s performance in a historical context. In 2007, when Prius sales peaked, there was not a larger Prius and a smaller Prius, nor was there a new plug-in Prius waiting just around the corner. Indeed, plug-ins and pure electrics weren’t stealing 30 percent of the overall hybrid/electric market as they are now, either.

Times have changed. Buyers interested in green cars now have more options.

Fuel prices have changed, as well. In mid-2007, American car buyers were paying more than $4.00/gallon or regular fuel, roughly half that today. GasBuddy average U.S. fuel price chartFor the new Prius, the changing American automotive landscape is likewise all too apparent. Not only are there more competitors stealing the Prius’s old market share. Not only is it difficult for any vehicle in this category to make headway when fuel prices are so low. But the Prius is also a car in a market that’s now filling its belly on SUVs and crossovers. In October, Americans purchased and leased 60,000 more utility vehicles than cars.

Unfortunately for Toyota, the core Prius’s decline wasn’t even the worst in the Prius family in October. While resulting in far less lost volume, the aged Toyota Prius V wagon plunged 45 percent in October 2016; the subcompact Prius C slid 54 percent. Nor were the significant declines among Toyota hybrids connected only to the Prius family. HybridCars.com says Camry Hybrid sales slid 29 percent compared with October 2015, the Avalon Hybrid was down 32 percent, Highlander Hybrid sales slid 5 percent, the Lexus ES300h fell 61 percent, and the Lexus CT200h tumbled 48 percent.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has become an important part of the increasingly popular RAV4 lineup, however, and Lexus crossover hybrid volume is on the rise, as well. And of course, Toyota light truck volume is soaring. Last month was the best-ever October for Toyota light truck sales, and it would likely have been better if supply wasn’t an issue.

But the Prius, the hybrid that got the green ball rolling at Toyota, is increasingly less consequential in Toyota showrooms. That’s true whether we’re discussing a month with or without quality issues.

A decade ago, the Prius accounted for 7 percent of the new vehicles sold by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. That figure is down to 4 percent this year; just 3 percent in October.

So, can Toyota interest you in a Prius Prime?

[Images: Toyota, GasBuddy.com]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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37 Comments on “America Is Changing In More Ways Than One: Toyota Prius Sales Are At A Five-Year Low...”


  • avatar
    Roberto Esponja

    Wow, who would have thought! Such a GREAT-looking car!

  • avatar
    pdl2dmtl

    Well duh, Toyota tried to make it more different than the mainstream cars and I would say that it backfired.

  • avatar
    LeMansteve

    1. Gas is cheap
    2. The RAV-4 exists in the same showroom

    That being said – if anyone wants a new, super-efficient commuting machine and can deal with the funky styling of the Prius, it appears now is the time to buy.

    • 0 avatar
      Higheriq

      And the Prius is butt ugly. It’s the perfect storm.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      My wife and I were cross shopping a 2017 Prius 5 and a Honda Civic + Honda Sensing grt my wife to work while we wait for our Model 3, until this morning.

      The economic policies that Trump had been advocating for will hit us pretty hard, on account of the fact that we depend on global trade. In particular, my company has electronics manufactured in China, and our margins are thin — so we’re going out of business if Trump can get any sort of tariff passed on Chibese imports. So, we’ve decided to buy a used Prius instead, so that we don’t get stuck with a big car payment if I lose my job.

      We’ll see how we’re doing when the Model 3 comes out.

      P.S. Our 2004 Prius made it to cockroach status. The only thing that could stop it was a Silverado that tried to drive through it.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      I would add that we can overlay the “sedan deathwatch” on this picture.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    EVs are up, so it isn’t just cheap gas hurting the Prius.

    It’s butt-ugly, and offering it as a niche PHEV won’t help.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      I’m a big Prius fan, and both of those thing have helped push off the purchase of a new Prius for us.

      The upcoming Trump Recession* won’t help anything, either.

      * Throttling global trade the way he promised in his campaign will cause the US economy to contract.

  • avatar
    Jean-Pierre Sarti

    even when the price of gas was high the value proposition of this car still didn’t work for me and I drive 20k miles a year and keep cars on average of 8 years.

    Also, yes, this latest generation look kind of bad.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Do we have a review describing the Prius “vast objective improvements”? Seriously, the last time I rode in one, I thought it was kind of a penalty box. Even my greenie 30-year old daughter, who lives in California, felt the same way after driving one for a few days . . . and bought something else for herself.

    I am increasingly repelled by the styling of the products coming out of Toyota Motor Co. these days, of which the Prius is but the latest over-styled example. But then, I’m an old fart and don’t matter much any more. I thought the first-generation Lexii were handsome cars, even if the LS 400 was a pretty slavish derivative of the Benz S-class. The Toyotas of that period were generally innocuous if not memorable. The second generation Prius was a little edgy, but that was fitting with its mission of being a “revolutionary” automobile.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Toyota is trying to be edgy.

      But, because of their sales volume, everything they make becomes bland the instant it shows up in the cube farm parking lots everywhere.

      Once the edgieness wears off, you’re left with ugly cars.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    From the b-pillars back, the new Prius is a horror, especially the rear quarters. The taillights at night only highlight the horrid lines of the car.

    What a shock, you build the Pontiac Aztek of hybrids, and sales go through the floor.

    The Prius C is the definition of penalty box on wheels.

    Honestly I’ve never understood why the V never sold better – I guess it looks to “wagonish.”

    ‘mericans hate wagons.

  • avatar
    dukeisduke

    I see *tons* of second- and third-gen Priuses now (even the occasional beater), but I’ve only seen maybe four or five of these. The styling is hideous, and I think it needs a rush restyle, like the 2012 Camry got. The Mirai infection is spreading.

    • 0 avatar
      spookiness

      Most people who wanted one got one already. The styling of it now isn’t going to win new converts. I’m not averse to hybrids, but I just want one that is a normal car and not trying to make some statement.

  • avatar
    never_follow

    It looks like a fat woman in a vinyl dress, all angles and glare where there shouldn’t be, especially in red.

    At a certain point, green cred won’t make up for your design department’s choices.

  • avatar
    kcflyer

    It’s Ugly.

    I have to believe it would be selling much better otherwise. It is known for stellar reliability and low cost to own. Looks alone kept me from buying one.

  • avatar
    mustang462002

    I did not think it was a penalty box. The steering is heavy, very low to no NVH, some body roll, solid over bumps, comfortable and decent acceleration.

    I’m planning on trading in my TDI for one.

    The rear is absolutely perfect. The front can only improve with a collision.

  • avatar
    Notmyname

    I think it’s worth noting that the Prius is by far the best selling car in Japan this year, which is where it happens to be built. Toyota is probably managing slack demand in America, with the increased sales in Japan. I doubt it’s hurting them that much

    They seemed to have seen this coming
    http://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-autos-toyota-prius-idUKKBN0TS0VK20151209

  • avatar
    whynotaztec

    Tailfins are back in style!

  • avatar
    Syncro

    “…plunged 45 percent…” Does this mean there are deals to be had on the Prius V?

  • avatar
    Paragon

    I loved the tail-fin era cars when I was a kid. And I still do. I was not yet 15 when the awesome Dodge Charger Daytona came on the scene. And, I was not yet 16 when the Plymouth RoadRunner SuperBird came out. Positively loved the winged warriors. And, I still do. But there DOES seem to be a bit of a tendency by the auto makers to uglify some cars of late. The latest Prius looks too weird at night. And, the same for the latest Civic, IMHO. Weird style simply for the sake of style, or more to stand out from all the other stuff on the road repulses me. But, hey, don’t listen to me; go ahead and let your freak flag fly high.

    Now, to clarify. I like and accept stuff done on vehicles for aerodynamic purposes. Better fuel mileage and better handling are often a beneficial result. But, stuff done simply to stand out as noticeably different from all the rest seems like a waste. It’s just seems so Attention Whorish.

  • avatar
    RJ250

    I own a Gen 3 Prius.Toyota double blunder. The car is so ugly, it looks like 2 different design teams worked on the front, and rear. At a time when people are looking at cars so they sit higher, the new Prius has dropped the seat height 2 inches.
    If the design had not been so radical I believe the sales would have remained constant. The new Gen 4 Prius owners tell me the car drives so much superior to the Gen 3. It is the styling that is killing sales.

  • avatar
    Whatnext

    Simple. Gas is cheap and it is Fugly.

  • avatar
    rpn453

    The Prius has never been my kind of car. I want something communicative that handles well, with a manual transmission. Despite that, I could understand how the last couple generations might be ideal for a congested daily commute in a warm climate, especially when fuel prices are high. I even appreciated the practical and efficient design of second-gen body; so free of unnecessary flair.

    But I can’t appreciate this one. I’d have to approach it with my eyes closed to consider driving it.

  • avatar
    NoDoors

    My wife loves her Prius, my mother-in-law has had three and my father-in-law loves his. All are unanimous about the fact that this is the ugliest Prius ever. I don’t mind her Prius, it does exactly what we want it to do and she loves it.

    Her comment on seeing the new styling was along the lines of “what were they smoking? Let’s keep mine running forever if that’s how they look now.”

    So that’s three potential sales lost. I have a feeling based on the comments so far that it’s not uncommon.

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    There are other factors as well. Dealers expecting lower demand due to low gas prices are lowering orders. Sales of all hybrids are down, and ompetitors have been increasing incentives. I was recently paid $50 to take a test drive of a Hyundai Sonata Hybrid that carries a $5,000 rebate – making the hybrid as cheap or cheaper than the comparably equipped nonhybrid. Also, nonhybrids have made headway on MPG. A typical 4-cylinder midsized sedan can top 35-MPG highway. I found with a recent rental of a Ford Fusion with the base 2.5 lieter 4 that at 75 MPH, a legal speed out west, the Fusion got only slgihtly worse gas mileage as my C-Max hybrid. (Aerodynamics rule at high speeds.)

  • avatar
    Jim123

    I dunno who’s approving all of these “oragami on acid” designs Yota keeps puking out, but they need to be female-dog slapped. Blind and sheep-like loyalty will only get you so far when your products resemble JDM market kids toys. I thought the GenIII Prius was neat looking in Prius 5 trim and considered a used one as a backup/spare vehicle. Don’t know why they couldn’t have further evolved that design?

  • avatar
    hifi

    Ya don’t say!?!? People aren’t throwing money at Toyota for a car that looks like a dumpster on casters? Cars like Toyota have done well because the bland designs and awkward proportions said “I’m too serious about being reliable to bother looking good.” But the difference now is that Toyotas are conspicuously junky and the designs aren’t purposeful anymore. This Prius is a foolish, amateurish design.

    • 0 avatar
      guy922

      They have gotten pretty Junky. My sister has a 2013 Corolla, Mom a 2013 Camry. Both have just seemed to fall apart in the last few years. The Corolla lost a bunch of screws from under the dash when we brought it home, and the front door panels have rapidly deteriorated (cracks in the plastic under the fabric inserts) The Camry had weird bumper clip problems and they keep popping off. Camry’s have had awful crap bumbers since 1997.

      I was never a fan of the Prius, but I had respect for the technological prowess. The actual vessel has always been butt-ugly no matter what generation, and that is coming from a Toyota fan. Thank god I still have my 1992 Camry V6 LE. I can feel that old Toyota goodness still. I don’t feel it so much in my Mom/sister’s cars.

      Why did they have to create such an obnoxiously ugly Prius model this time around?


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