By on January 25, 2017

2016 Toyota Prius - Image: Toyota

2017 will be the fifth consecutive year of U.S. year-over-year sales decline for the venerable Toyota Prius.

The core member of the four-pronged Prius lineup — this non-Prime liftback — was once a seemingly unstoppable presence in America. Annual volume shot beyond 100,000 units in 2005 and rose to an all-time high of 181,221 sales in 2007.

But America’s post-recession enjoyment of lower fuel prices and an accompanying turn to SUVs and crossovers (plus a measure of distaste for the current model’s egregious exterior styling) led to a 98,866-unit U.S. sales result in 2016, a 12-year low for the Prius.

2017 will be worse. “We’re going to follow the market,” Toyota Motor Sales USA’s vice president for automotive operations, Bob Carter, told Wards Auto.

What’s that mean?

It means a 24-percent plunge to only 75,000 Prius sales in 2016.

There’s no expectation Prius sales should be as healthy now as they were in 2007. With the Prius family’s expansion and far more hybrid competition from virtually every automaker, the Prius can’t continue to earn maximum market share.

Of course, the entire Prius family never generated the level of demand Toyota expected, either. Initially hoping for 400,000 annual sales with the Prius, Prius Plug-In (now the Prius Prime), Prius C, and Prius V, the best year yet was 2012: 236,659 total sales.

Yet while Toyota projects a loss of roughly 24,000 Prius sales in 2017, greater Prius Prime availability will help pick up some of the slack. After months of inactivity, Toyota reported 781 Prius Prime sales in November; another 1,641 in December. While adding those Prime sales, however, Toyota lost 3,370 sales of the conventional Prius during the same period.

2016 Toyota RAV4/RAV4 Hybrid - Image: Toyota

Toyota will also rely on increased demand for the RAV4 Hybrid in 2017. Self-congratulatorily crediting “almost impeccable” timing, Toyota’s Carter told Wards that in 2016, “people were coming out of the Prius, preferred a utility body, and here’s a vehicle that provides almost the same benefits, but with a utility body.”

The RAV4 Hybrid arrived in showrooms in late 2015. Toyota then sold 45,099 RAV4 Hybrids in the U.S. in 2016, but supply was limited. As Toyota ramps up RAV4 production in the hopes of selling more than 400,000 total RAV4s in 2017 — quite possibly enough for the RAV4 to become America’s best-selling SUV/crossover for the first time — the automaker wants the hybrid variant to account for at least 15 percent of all RAV4 sales, up from 13 percent in 2016.

Despite anticipated growth from the RAV4, plus the arrival of an all-new Camry, increased production of the Tacoma pickup truck, and growth across the light truck lineup, Toyota doesn’t expect to see overall U.S. sales growth in 2017.

You know where to cast the blame.

Cars.

Especially the Prius.

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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77 Comments on “Toyota Prius Sales Will Plunge In 2017...”


  • avatar
    OldManPants

    No, duh… Prius is a little crampy car. I adore its looks but it’s a little crampy car.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      When was the last time you sat in one? Prius was one of the few cars I sat in at the auto show where nothing was banging into my knees.

      • 0 avatar
        FormerFF

        +1, the Prius is downright roomy, it’s almost as big inside as a Camry. While it’s not large on the outside, it’s running gear and wheels are surprising compact.

        A friend drives a Hummer H3, it’s the exact opposite, a big blocky vehicle that has big wheels and bulky running gear, and has surprisingly little room inside.

        • 0 avatar
          Willyam

          Excellent example. I remember driving the H3 first at the road show introduction (when GM did those things) and was surprised at how difficult it was to see the off-road test loop or even much outside of the tank-like windows and cramped interior.

          Another is the modern Wrangler, as its engine compartment and interior are WAY more cramped than the LJ/TJ’s that I used to own. Safer, but smaller.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        Did the fix the dash? The 2G and 3G Prius pulled the dash pretty far forward, and (basically) right into the knees of taller drivers.

        • 0 avatar
          bumpy ii

          Depends on how much leg you have. The dash area behind the steering wheel was a bit close, but still had some room.

          Gen4:
          http://blogmedia.dealerfire.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/436/2016/06/Toyota-Prius-Interior_o.jpg

          Gen3:
          http://images.gtcarlot.com/customgallery/interior/60863955.jpg

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Well, we’re gonna differ on the Prius’ looks, OMP…

    • 0 avatar
      ExPatBrit

      They are pretty popular around here, plus a lot of taxis and uber as well.

      The rear seat is very roomy IMHO.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      I will have to echo the torch and pitchfork wielding crowd of B&Bers calling you out OldManPants. The Prius is seriously well packaged and roomy. I don’t care for the gen 3’s “flying” center console, but surprisingly it does not impede right knee room. But for overall airy feel and quality construction (for the era), the gen 2 takes the cake for me.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      I’ve never considered the Prius as “crampy”, though I’ve never been a fan of its looks and it certainly doesn’t agree with my driving style.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      As someone who has taken more rides than he can count in Prius Ubers and taxicabs of all generations, gotta add my name to the chorus. It’s an amazingly well packaged car. Huge inside for its relatively small size outside, and the back seat is totally comfortable (actually, more comfortable than the front).

    • 0 avatar
      danwat1234

      2016 Prius is rather roomy. Very functional cargo hauler. Reasonably fast, very good MPG, prime candidate for a plugin hybrid kit. Toyota should update their Camry, Rav4 and Highlander hybrids to the current drivetrain spec of 40% thermal efficiency engine block.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      So you’ve never driven, been a passenger in, or even sat in a Prius.

      A 2005-2009 Prius is anything but “crampy”. It’s quite large-significantly larger than the Corolla it’s always being compared to, for example. The back seat of the Prius is what a back seat should be, with plenty of room.

      Never let ignorance stop you!

      • 0 avatar
        OldManPants

        “So you’ve never driven, been a passenger in, or even sat in a Prius.”

        There’s a ’15 in my driveway at least a couple weekends each month unless they bring their Row of Urinals.

        When they first got it I was all enthused and drove it enough to not want to anymore. Most claustrophobic car experience thus far, hopefully ever.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          “Most claustrophobic”?

          So you’ve never driven any other cars in that market segment.

          • 0 avatar
            OldManPants

            “So you’ve never driven any other cars in that market segment.”

            Why the hell would I? The Prius just happened to be in the family.

            I’m not doubting your implication that there are even worse little crampy cars.

        • 0 avatar
          Vulpine

          You must be a giant, because it is more than roomy enough for me and my wife, at six feet tall with long legs and broad hips, had absolutely no difficulties sitting behind the wheel of one.

    • 0 avatar
      ktm

      ….based oh his username and response, this is exactly the reason we need to institute age restrictions on congressional candidates……soylent green I say

  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    If I were Toyota, I wouldn’t be relying on the RAV4 Hybrid to pick up the crossover torch for the Prius. There’s still a lot of (inexplicable, in my opinion, but extant nonetheless) goodwill in the brand; why not build a Prius-branded crossover that apes its hideous-but-recognizable look and makes current owners feel warm and fuzzy about the switch?

    • 0 avatar
      quaquaqua

      If you really can’t explain why Toyota is still popular (and it’s not like they’re overwhelmingly dominant or anything), you clearly don’t know much about the auto industry.

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      PeriSoft, it does seem pretty obvious that’s what the Toyota exec meant about “following the market.” Probably their problem is that if you tried to take the newly mutated Prius styling to the CUV space, the result would look and act almost indistinguishable from a RAV4. All new Toyotas seem to be going down the same (evidently) blind alley of Rodan Battles Rocket Boy.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    “OK, guys…for the new Prius, the styling theme will be…boomerangs!”

    “Get to work!”

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Valid question: how much of this is the market, and how much of this is the new model’s (awful) styling?

    About 60% of the former, and 40% the latter, I’d say.

    And I have a feeling Kia’s going to capture quite a few potential Prius sales with the Niro.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Before it looked different, I’d called it interesting in a future facing kind of way. However now its just HORRIBLE, like some grade school child designed it and went all crazy with angles. Put another way, it makes the new Civic look acceptable. I know Toyota gets ripped for boring designs but this new Prius went off the deep end styling wise.

      • 0 avatar
        NoDoors

        Precisely. My wife (who loves hers) says that there’s no way she’d buy one of the new ones because they’re ugly. She actually cringes.

        Space? I think I can fit more in her Prius than my Jeep. Thinking on it I know I can fit more cargo in there.

  • avatar
    jmo

    Oil is a boom and bust industry, it behooves auto manufactures to have both competitive c/suv’s and hybrids to cover both the inevitable spike and crash in oil prices.

  • avatar
    Verbal

    It’s the proverbial little old lady car. It has replaced the Volvo wagon as the car that is holding back traffic.

  • avatar
    zoomzoomfan

    Maybe they won’t make it so funny looking next time. The former Prius was a relatively inoffensive liftback sedan. This one looks like something that fell out of the air duct of the Starship Enterprise. Even non-car people think it is odd looking, I’m sure.

    I have talked to my friend, a current owner of a 2007 Prius (with 200,000 or so miles on it) about the new design and she said “Why did they take my car and make it ten times uglier? It was already kind of ugly.”

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Continuing in the Trek mode, I’d say that the Prius would resemble Klingon excrement (assuming the folks who made the show were actually able to show poops).

    • 0 avatar
      heavy handle

      Toyota has increased the ugly much more than they’ve increased the mileage. The newest (4th gen?) Prius gets almost the same numbers as the 2nd gen.

      In the meanwhile, every other major brand sells something better looking that gets at least 40 MPG.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Is GM taking a bite out of them at all? The Volt just had its best year ever and the Malibu just had its best year since 2002. Granted the ‘Bu and Volt are new, but the cenobite Prius was new recently and it’s sales didn’t increase.

    GM’s most recent PHEV/EV/hybrid systems are quite well received and I think they have a shot to actually be a market leader in something for once. That’s part of the reason I think it is a mistake to be going diesel on the ‘Nox and Cruze over a hybrid.

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      I’d have to say the Volt is indeed part of this. Anyone know what percentage of Malibus are hybrids?

      And I’d also say Toyota is going to have to contend with the Kia Niro as well, assuming it delivers on being a functional hybrid. Low $20,000’s price and styling that won’t embarrass the owner? Sounds like a winner to me.

    • 0 avatar
      Secret Hi5

      “cenobite” >_<

      I'd rather have polarizing looking vehicles than bland-mobiles. Need more Jukes and its ilk.

      • 0 avatar
        bunkie

        On the one hand, you’re welcome to them.

        On the other hand, it’s the outside world who has to shield their eyes against the overwhelming ugliness. Being inside, you are inside the styling equivalent of a Faraday cage.

        To quote Jeremy Clarkson:

        “Ow! My Eyes!”

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      When the Volt first came out it’s best customer was former Prius owners. Meaning more were sold to former Prius owners than anyone else. Not sure if that is still true. As a biased Volt owner not sure I’d agree that the lackluster sales of the Prius is due to the Volt. I’m sure it continues to steal sales here and there but not to any measurable degree.

      I’d place low fuel prices combined with the fact that they’ve stayed
      stable for so long as the biggest factor for a decline in Prius sales. And I don’t think the current gen’s styling is doing it any favors.

      Yearly Volt sales 2013-2016

      Sales Results – USA – Volt
      Year Total
      2016 24,739
      2015 15,393
      2014 18,805
      2013 23,094

  • avatar
    Master Baiter

    Let’s see. Blank plastic where the driver’s gauges should be, spongy brake pedal, styling by 14 YO Japanese boys on crack, being associated with green Nazis who hold up traffic; what’s not to like?
    .
    .

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    I would buy one if it didn’t look like a graphics-card rendering accident, as someone once put it…although the Prime’s front fascia is an improvement.

  • avatar
    Meat

    How is the availability of the Prime? I wasn’t even aware of its existence until yesterday when a coworker mentioned that he was looking for one but that they seemed to only be available on the coasts and not here in OH.

  • avatar
    Rday

    Just bought a 2017 rav4 hybrid. just love it. great vehicle to travel in and has awd to boot. averaging low 30’s but the radar controlled cruise control is great along with the automatic dimming headlights. truly amazing and has lots of room. Never had anything but great experiences from Toyota and will only buy vehicles from them from now on. Life is just so much simpler when you have a toyota as your vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      danwat1234

      Yeah, it needs the drivetrain refresh. 4th gen tech. Hopefully in 2018. Should be getting at least 40MPG! The ’16 Prius is an easy 55MPG average in moderate weather.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I see assumptions made that may or may not be valid; assuming gasoline prices will remain low now that someone else is President doesn’t bode well towards stable fuel prices. Add to this that individual tax rates, according to some reports, may take a hit as state income taxes will no longer be deductible from Federal tax returns and we’re headed towards another down period–possibly a serious one.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    It’s hideous looking for one. Which is a shame since the last generation was perfectly presentable.

    With the current price of gas you might not save huge $$ on fuel. But I’ve always liked the idea of using as little fuel as possible.

    If I was new car shopping I’d definitely be looking at the RAV4 or Highlander hybrids….

  • avatar
    orenwolf

    I’m surprised. I’ve driven my share of Prii as rentals. I’ve never wanted one myself because they have no power or handling worth talking about, but as a daily commuter goes if all you care about is driving in congested traffic and boring city blocks it’d be hard to beat, *especially* in city fuel consumption.

    I’m not in the customer pool, though, because I believe I can drive something that sips gas (or needs none) and still enjoy the drive. Now I’m just waiting for the vehicle I can do that in that doesn’t cost nearly six figures.

    • 0 avatar
      bhtooefr

      The problem is that cheap gas is driving people away from efficient vehicles in general, and Americans don’t want a car any more, they want a SUV.

      I’m surprised how nicely the Gen 4 Prius drives, though – stick stickier rubber on, stiffen up the suspension, and add 100 hp (drop the 2018 Camry Hybrid powertrain in), and you could have a legitimate hot hatch version of the Prius, IMO.

  • avatar
    tonycd

    Just got a used previous-gen Prius for my better half. I admire it as an engineering achievement. The mileage really is all that, and they’re incredibly durable. Yeah, it’s a little slow, but not enough to get you killed, and with the top trim’s quicker steering and lower-profile rubber, it even handles okay in a go-karty sort of way.

    Now, the new one supposedly rides and handles better, goes a hair faster and gets even better MPG, but it’s so ugly I wouldn’t be seen using it as a float in a Bad Taste parade. OTOH, my wife doesn’t care about that a bit, and that’ll probably bring down the price to where it can be her next car some years from now.

  • avatar
    210delray

    The styling is “different” in the same manner that the 59 Chevy looked wild, in my opinion. I don’t really mind it. Plus there’s no gaping maw grille that’s so prevalent today, including Lexus with its spindle and even the Camry with the “Darth Vader” bumper slats.

    Plus you can get real colors and it’s much smoother and quieter driving than the previous generation. And 61 mpg (indicated) over a long weekend when I test drove one is nothing to sneeze at. (I am aware the most trip computers overestimate gas mileage, but still.)

    And I keep saying that the only thing certain about future gas prices is that they will remain uncertain.

  • avatar
    Fred

    On a personal note the one guy I see almost every day in a Prius now has an Accord. He still passes me at 80mph

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Besides cheaper gas, the competition has improved dramatically. Used to be the Prius was head-and-shoulders above any other hybrid (remember the Insight?). Now that just about everyone produces a competent hybrid, the Prius just isn’t that special. No surprise that’s hurt sales.

  • avatar
    nguyenvuminh

    I’ve always liked the Prius for what it can do and would hope the sales decline will lead to a reduction in asking price in the upcoming 2-3 years.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    The current Prius is feckin’ ugly, especially from the b-pillar back. Those tail lights are an abomination. They Pontiac Azteked the thing.

  • avatar
    brandloyalty

    Maybe Prius owners are so satisfied with them and reliability is so good that there is little market for replacement sales.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Studies show that Prius buyers are generally one and done (for that matter hybrid buyers are generally one and done).

      I think that has a lot more to do with changes in life than their owner experience of a hybrid. A Prius C is a great commuter but get married and have a couple of kidlets and now it is a pain in the ass. Wife wants a CUV mommy wagon, happy wife happy life, buh-bye Prius.

      But the owner loyalty numbers on hybrids is surprising.

      https://www.yahoo.com/news/green-guilt-most-hybrid-owners-140000847.html

  • avatar
    incautious

    You ask: “what does it all mean” It means that the Pontiac Aztek is no longer the Fugliest vehicle ever produced

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      If you told people 15 years ago that the Pontiac Aztek would look positively normal by 2017, you’d be locked away with a seeing eye dog to guide you around the looney bin.

      As time goes by, the bean counter addled Aztek is looking more and more to be ahead of its time on many fronts. Terribly executed, but ahead of its time (and also should have never been a Pontiac)

      • 0 avatar
        Vulpine

        The Aztec looked like a jacked-up Honda from about 10 years prior. Worse, it was underpowered and riding on wheels and suspension far too light for what it was. I couldn’t believe how weak the 6-cyl model felt compared to most fours of the day.

  • avatar
    Mandalorian

    Prius is very efficient and very reliable, but it’s rise came as a fashion statement. We all know the type: “Oh look at me, I drive a Prius which saves the environment”. Lots of Hollywood stars jumped on that one.

    These days that eco-smug crowd has shifted over to Tesla.

    • 0 avatar
      Drzhivago138

      In the rural Upper Midwest, we didn’t see any Priuses until about 2006 or so. Just the other day I came across an unmolested first-gen model and I was struck by how…regular it looked, kinda like an Echo.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        The gen1 Prius pretty much was a hybridized Echo sedan. Gen2 stepped up to the familiar wedge-shaped, Corolla-sized hatchback.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          The gen2 Prius was way, way bigger than a Corolla.

          I wish everyone who compares the Prius to a Corolla would actually have experience with both of them, instead of sitting in their internet armchairs spouting random gibberish.

          • 0 avatar
            Mandalorian

            The first gen Prius was barely a Prius as we know it, really more of an Echo-hybrid. Looked totally unassuming, like every other cheap asian compact of the day. The “Computer Mouse” look we all know came with the second gen.

        • 0 avatar
          bhtooefr

          Except, when you put them side by side, the Gen 1 actually doesn’t look like an Echo sedan, and at its launch, it was actually bigger in some dimensions than the Corolla. (And, its platform was later used for the Gen 9 Corolla.)

          2370 mm wheelbase for the Echo, 2465 mm wheelbase for the Gen 8 Corolla, 2550 mm wheelbase for the Gen 1 Prius, and 2600 mm wheelbase for the Gen 9 Corolla.

          The Gen 1 Prius wasn’t as long overall as the Gen 8 Corolla, but it was also taller, which optimized the packaging.

          As jalop1991 pointed out, the Gen 2 Prius is quite a bit bigger, at 2700 mm wheelbase. (Gen 3 and 4 have continued that size. Conversely, the Gen 10 Corolla continued 2600 mm wheelbase, but Gen 11 has enlarged to 2700.)

  • avatar
    rudiger

    The drop in Prius sales is quite understandable for just a couple of reasons, the main one being that, unlike previous years, the Prius actually has some quite solid competitors now. There’s the Ford C-Max, Hyundai Ioniq, Honda Accord hybrid, and Chevy Volt. There’s even the RAV4 hybrid which, unusual for Toyota, is supposed to be a good deal, something like a meager $850 over the price of an equivalently equipped, non-hybrid RAV4. If I were in the market, it’s the Toyota I’d be most interested.

    Then there’s the zany, late-fifties era, space-age styling of the latest Prius (without much of a jump in technology or fuel mileage). Toyota really seems to be trying way too hard to make the Prius distinctive from anything else on the road.

    Those two factors (to say nothing of today’s low oil/gas prices) has really put a crimp in current Prius sales.

    The timing of the the second generation Prius (right after Hurricane Katrina caused the dramatic run-up in gas prices) did a superb job of bringing the revolutionary car into the mainstream. But, now, there are factors that seem to be driving it out of the mainstream.

  • avatar
    zip94513

    Sales won’t plunge in California, however, with the Prius stickered at $34,000 for a loaded model buyers find they’ll have plenty of options for the same money.

  • avatar
    syncro87

    I think the main reason Prius sales are down is cheap gas. Gas is barely over $2/gal in my area, and was around $1.60 there for a while. Nobody cares about the Prius until gas heads north of $3/gal US.

    The polarizing new body style doesn’t help, but it is a distantly secondary reason for the car’s recent sales decline, IMO. If the new Prius was an absolute stunner, I don’t think sales would be dramatically higher than they are. There are good looking cars that don’t sell. The Mazda6, for example, and arguably the 3. Most of the press was quite positive on the appearance of the Mazdas, and they are still sales also-rans. Good looking only counts for so much.

    I think people have overreacted to the styling. It isn’t my favorite, but if my goal is maximum MPG combined with Toyota reliability, I couldn’t care less what it looks like. If I want 50+ mpg, hatch, not too expensive, no hassle long term Toyota ownership experience, who cares about aesthetics. I don’t.

    I’d almost pat Toyota on the back for at least trying to break out of the same looking car funk. Every SUV on the road is the same boring shape. Sedans, too. Seems like there are really very few cars that have take any styling risk at all. I have perhaps more respect for the guy driving a Prius than I do for someone driving an Equinox or Escape or any of the other boring same old SUV/CUVs that blend lemming-like into the landscape. At least the thing has SOME personality instead of being total vanilla.

    The Prius is a specialty car that occupies a relatively small niche in the market. It sells to a certain kind of person for certain reasons. I’m guessing that appearance is way down the list of reasons people buy a Prius.

  • avatar

    Unlike GM, at least People still buy Toyota cars in quantity. Have you seen the horrendous sales figures for the new Malibu and Lacrosse. Bara must go.

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