If Current Trends Hold, the Toyota Prius Will Not Be America's Best-selling Hybrid in 2018

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
if current trends hold the toyota prius will not be america s best selling hybrid in

If 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.

Rewind 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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  • Bwilson4web Bwilson4web on Aug 09, 2017

    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.

  • BigFire BigFire on Aug 10, 2017

    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.

  • Tassos ask me if I care.
  • ToolGuy • Nice vehicle, reasonable price, good writeup. I like your ALL CAPS. 🙂"my mid-trim EX tester is saddled with dummy buttons for a function that’s not there"• If you press the Dummy button, does a narcissist show up spouting grandiose comments? Lol.
  • MaintenanceCosts These are everywhere around here. I'm not sure the extra power over a CR-V hybrid is worth the fragile interior materials and the Kia dealership experience.
  • MaintenanceCosts It's such a shame about the unusable ergonomics. I kind of like the looks of this Camaro and by all accounts it's the best-driving of the current generation of ponycars. A manual 2SS would be a really fun toy if only I could see out of it enough to drive safely.
  • ToolGuy Gut feel: It won't sell all that well as a new vehicle, but will be wildly popular in the used market 12.5 years from now.(See FJ Cruiser)