By on August 9, 2017

2016 Toyota Prius Four - Image: ToyotaIf current marketplace trends hold, the Toyota Prius will not be America’s best-selling hybrid by next year.

The steep rate of decline experienced by the Prius in 2017 is no surprise. For one thing, it’s a continuation of the decline we saw earlier in the fourth-gen Prius’ tenure. For another, there are new Prius competitors, such as the Hyundai Ioniq and Toyota’s highly efficient 2018 Camry Hybrid. But the Prius’s rapid slide — sales are down by a third so far this year — is also what Toyota predicted at the turn of the calendar.

Yet even if the rate of Prius decline suddenly and unexpectedly slows, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario in which the Toyota Prius, long the dominant hybrid in America, holds onto its crown as the top seller for long.

The victor in 2018 will, however, almost certainly be a Toyota.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid continues to make predictable gains in the U.S. marketplace even as the Toyota Prius’s predictable losses mount. Compared with 2007, a decade ago, Prius sales in 2016 were 45 percent lower. That’s not a shocker: in 2007, the Prius was going it alone. By 2016, besides numerous rivals from competing automakers, the Prius was long since sharing its slice of the pie with other Prii such as the smaller Prius C and larger Prius V.

Yet even in comparison to prior portions of this current Prius’s era, sales are tanking. Only 39,146 copies of the Prius were sold in the first seven months of 2017. Year-over-year, monthly Prius volume has declined in each of the last 15 months.

By year’s end, Prius sales are expected to reach a 13-year low. In fact, in many of those years, Toyota had already sold more copies of the Prius by this point — the seven-month mark — than Toyota will manage to sell in the whole 2017 calendar year. And while Toyota predicted a sharp decrease in the number of Prii sold in 2017, the company’s prediction still called for 75,000 sales. Instead, Toyota is on track to sell fewer than 67,000. Blame a 33-percent drop — Toyota predicted a 24-percent decrease.

Granted, the Prius’s sharp decline doesn’t take into account the Prius Prime, something of a separate model given its plug-in nature. But even with the Prime’s 24,685-percent year-over-year improvement (there essentially was no plug-in Prius in the early part of 2017) Prius sales would still be down 14 percent in 2017’s first seven months. Total Prius family sales — including the C, V, and Prime — are down 20 percent this year.

Fortunately for Toyota, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid continues to enjoy increasingly greater demand. 25,465 RAV4 Hybrids were sold in the U.S. in the first seven months of 2017, a 7-percent improvement compared with the same period in 2016.2016 Toyota RAV4 Hybrid - Image: ToyotaRewind one year to July 2016 and the Prius outsold the RAV4 Hybrid by more than 2-to-1 margin. That gap narrowed to just 1.3-to-1 in July 2017. Go back just two years, when Prius sales were nearly twice as strong in July 2015 as in July 2017 and Toyota wasn’t selling any RAV4 Hybrids at all.

Toyota hopes to see the RAV4 grab 15 percent of the total RAV4 pie in 2017, up from 13 percent in 2016. In part because of even more impressive growth from ICE-only RAV4s, the RAV4 Hybrid’s slice shrunk to 11 percent in the first seven months of 2017.

With modest 7-percent growth in 2018, Toyota will sell roughly 3,900 RAV4 Hybrids per month in the United States. At the Prius’s current rate of decline, the Prius will fall to a rate of roughly 3,750 monthly U.S. sales next year. The 2018 Camry Hybrid LE’s 52-mpg combined rating will do the Prius no favors, either, while the RAV4 Hybrid’s direct rivals are few and far between.

Trends sometimes reverse. There was a time, you’ll recall, when midsize coupes were a hot ticket; when regular cab pickups were the norm. But unless Toyota slaps some of the Prius C’s new body cladding on a facelifted Prius and calls it the Prius PreRunner, the Toyota RAV4 Hybrid and Toyota Prius are bound to switch places sooner rather than later.

According to HybridCars.com, sales of non-plug-in hybrids are up 7 percent to nearly 207,000 units through 2017’s first seven months. 56 percent of that market is Toyota-owned, down from 73 percent one year ago.

[Images: Toyota]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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27 Comments on “If Current Trends Hold, the Toyota Prius Will Not Be America’s Best-selling Hybrid in 2018...”


  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    IIRC, the Prius is a bit of a penalty box refinement wise, and is not much cheaper than a similarly equipped Camry Hybrid. It’s struggling to justify its existence.

    IMO Toyota should make “Prius” a submodel across the line. I.e. Camry Prius, RAV4 Prius, 4Runner Prius etc.

    • 0 avatar
      arach

      Give this guy a marketing job at Toyota.

      The Prius sub model is actually pretty brilliant, and it makes a lot of sense.

    • 0 avatar
      tnk479

      The 4Runner Prius will be a smash hit with enthusiasts I am sure.

      According to the EPA the 17 Prius and 18 Camry Hybrid both consume 1.9 gallons per 100 miles, which is very impressive. However, the 18 Camry four cylinder consumes 3.1 gallons per 100 miles and thus costs only about 250$ more in gas per 10,000 miles. This explains why hybrids are after all these years still a niche for environmental enthusiasts.

      https://www.fueleconomy.gov/feg/Find.do?action=sbs&id=38061&id=38936

  • avatar
    jeanbaptiste

    I think the general population is starting to not have a problem with hybrids. However the general population would have a problem with ugly.

    I take that back, people buy the new civic.

    There goes my grand observation.

  • avatar
    pinkslip

    “24,685-percent”

    That’s a lot of percents!

    But yeah, I’m not surprised the Prius numbers are shrinking as Toyota and their competitors expand the option of hybrid vehicles. The Prius is the quintessential appliance: little-to-no luxury a la style, comfort, driving enjoyment, etc. It is the vehicle for the person who sees driving as a necessary evil. Anyone who would rather be in anything nicer than a refrigerator on wheels now has several more compelling hybrid options.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Finally I will see less of this stupidity

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    * Low fuel prices and a global oil glut created by improvements in extraction – short of dear leader staring World War III, oil prices aren’t going up any time soon.
    * Increase competition, across Toyota and outside.
    * An abandoning by car buyers of anything that isn’t a CUV/SUV (and the V doesn’t cut it).
    * Tesla is now the, “hey look at me, I’m saving the planet, NO SERIOUSLY, LOOK AT ME! WHY AREN’T YOU LOOKING AT ME SAVING THE PLANET!!!” status symbol. The “sumg” of Priusdom is gone.
    * Current generation Prius from the b-pillar back is just a hot mess of angle, creases, folds, and conflicting lines.
    * The Prius went through a decontenting phase, mouse fur interior, hard plastics, and is generally a penalty box on wheels.
    * No longer the MPG leader for hybrids.
    * The oooh-ahhhh novelty of owning a hybrid is gone.
    * As I understand it, the under-pinnings of the V and C have yet to be upgraded, the platforms are dated.
    * Longer term trend of hybrid buyers being one and done – they aren’t returning to the well to buy another hybrid in the replacement cycle.

    I remember five or seven years ago the cries were Prius should be it’s own make (e.g. Scion) and the addition of the V and C models was the first step to making that happen. How fortunes have changed.

    • 0 avatar
      stingray65

      AP – you capture all the key points – except the extra ugliness of the current version. Nobody ever loved the Prius, so when a more “green” credentialed option comes along they abandon it in droves – the Prius has been the number 1 trade-in on the Volt, Bolt, Leaf, and Tesla and probably a few other hybrids and EVs.

    • 0 avatar
      ttacgreg

      Which vehicle is the leader in MPG?

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, if anyone doubted that styling matters…

    • 0 avatar
      tonycd

      Yep, Freed. This ain’t complicated. My wife has an older Prius, and I’ve even come to like it. But I just can’t warm up to a car that looks like its prototype was left in the toaster oven until it melted.

      This car isn’t ugly. It’s UUUUGGGLLLYYY. Toyota doesn’t even have to wait for a complete restyle. they could boost sales of this mess in one year just by cleaning up the front and back ends and the C-pillar in a heavy refresh.

      The “penalty box” thing is overstated. The Prius has a perfectly adequate level of standard equipment, just as it always has. It both rides and handles better than the hot-selling previous generation, thanks to a version of the new Camry’s rear suspension, a clear upgrade from the 2010-15’s torsion bars. it’s just unbearably ugly. Toyota might have predicted the Prius’s demise, but the fact they’re right so far doesn’t negate that the cause of death is suicide.

  • avatar
    CaddyDaddy

    Fugly don’t sell. I have a seen some of these on the road, usually all driven by what appears to be very smug retired female school teachers wearing high-end sports activity wear like The North Face and Mountain Head Wear. I know they are retired school teachers because they are always sporting the “Support Public Education” license plate.

    ….. and they are always in the passing lane driving 20 under to force others to Save the Planet?

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Chances are they aren’t retired.

      BECAUSE I CAN’T GET THE F)*&ing BOOMERS TO RETIRE!

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      Good call — retired teacher at church who taught at an uppity private school in town for old-money liberals showed up one day in a black Prius — the fugly one!

      Black can usually hide a multitude of sins! Not on this Prius!

      I wouldn’t have been ashamed to have been seen in the last one!

      Not so this one!

  • avatar
    anomaly149

    I think part of this is that a hybrid is no longer a status (smugus) symbol. The Prius has always had “distinctive” styling, and I think that hybrids have now normalized enough that the conspicuous consumer is moving on to BEVs.

    Instead, the upcoming flock of hybrid buyers are mainstream people looking for a more efficient normal car, and their buying tends will more closely reflect the overall market.

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    I like the idea of a hybrid as long as the premium isn’t too high. I hear the CR-V may be introducing a hybrid model in October…I’m all ears. The RAV-4 doesn’t have as much cargo capacity.

    The Prius is ugly. They should have modernized Gen 2 and 3’s distinctive shape.

  • avatar
    SlowMyke

    I don’t understand why no brand has made their compact and midsize CUVs hybrid only options yet. Aside from maybe a bit of lost cargo capacity, where’s the downside? You’re not losing any off the non-existent off road capability. You’ll add a bit of expense, but if you eat half of it, you’ll make up the difference in extra sales and the ability to market the green qualities. Then you’ve got a chance at denting Toyota’s strangle hold on the segment.

  • avatar
    John

    I know low gas prices affect hybrid sales, but I have to wonder if part of the decline in Prius sales is due to Toyota whacking it with an ugly stick – hard – in 2016.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      They broke the ugly stick over top of the Prius. It’s as if they’re trying the limits of how ugly a car can be before people can’t bare it any longer.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      The second generation Prius that propelled it into the mainstream was a happy combination of solid packaging along with a futuristic, unmistakable yet benign, pod appearance.

      The styling of the latest Prius is about as far from ‘benign’ as possible.

    • 0 avatar
      jalop1991

      “I know low gas prices affect hybrid sales, but I have to wonder if part of the decline in Prius sales is due to Toyota whacking it with an ugly stick – hard – in 2016.”

      I can speak to that personally. YES.

      Actually, the whacking started with the 2010 model. The interior was way worse than the US Gen 2 model. Then comes 2016, and they whack it hard with that ugly stick, plus give it the “coupe” lines in the rear AND shrink the rear seat room.

      I love my Prius. Love love love it for what it is. But after 2010, I won’t have one. They’ve screwed it up, big time.

      I’m in the market for a 2009 Prius right now, the last of the good ones.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    “…while the RAV4 Hybrid’s direct rivals are few and far between.”

    Um…Kia Niro?

  • avatar

    We gave our 2003 Prius, 172k mi, to the housekeeper so she would have affordable, reliable transportation. We replaced it with a BMW i3-REx, a plug-in hybrid with dynamic cruise control and collision avoidance and drove 18k miles in the first year. About 90% were electric miles which with home charging cost ~$0.25 per 10 miles. It gets 40 MPG on the highway.

    We replaced our 2010 Prius, 73k, with a 2017 Prius Prime, another plug-in hybrid with radar based, dynamic cruise control and collision avoidance. I drove it 1200 miles home following highballing trucks and got 58 MPG. Around town, EV also costs ~$0.25 per 10 miles, like the BMW i3-REx.

    Recently retired, cheap miles are all that matters. EV miles at a steady, $0.10/kWh, are about 2/3d the cost of variable $2/gal gas miles. Furthermore, local businesses offer free charging, ~$0.25-0.35, to attract EV repeat customers. These free charges account for about 1/3 of my electric miles. No one is offering free gas to shop.

    Plug-in hybrids give cheap, EV miles and gas to go cross country where the Prius Prime is exceptionally efficient. Prettier than sheet metal art, the saved greenback dollars in my wallet can buy a burger.

  • avatar
    BigFire

    I’m driving a 2005 Prius. It still drives fine, so I’m not in the market for a new vehicle. If by the car was crushed by a falling piano, I’ll probably go in for another Prius.

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