Toyota Expects a Quarter of Prius Customers to Choose AWD-e, but 25 Percent of Prius Is Not What It Used to Be

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain
toyota expects a quarter of prius customers to choose awd e but 25 percent of prius

As America’s new vehicle market shifts to vehicles with four driven wheels, greater ride height, and dog-friendly tailgates, it seems more than sensible for the Toyota Prius to take part in some community outreach.

The Prius, America’s 10th-best-selling car just a decade ago, can keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results. Or, the Prius can make a significant change – via available “independent electric, magnet-less rear motor” – to offer all-wheel drive, one of the feature sets that’s drawing car buyers away from cars.

And that’s exactly what Toyota has done for the otherwise refreshed 2019 Prius ( reviewed last week by our own Matt Posky). In a manner of speaking, Toyota expects big things from the Prius AWD-e: 25 percent of Prius customers, to be precise.

But one-fourth of all Prius volume is not what it used to be. In fact, it’s a far cry from what it used to be. A mere fraction of what it used to be. One-quarter of all Prius volume will make the Prius AWD-e barely more common than the Alfa Romeo Stelvio.

For the Prius, despite a market that’s much more open to green vehicles as a general concept, times have changed, and not in its favour. In 2007, for instance, the introduction of an AWD Prius that would earn 25 percent of all Prius volume would have resulted in over 45,000 annual sales in the United States. But sales of the Prius – by which we mean the core Prius model, not the C or V or Prime – have plunged 60 percent since 2007. In the last half-decade alone, Prius sales are down by half, a startling drop attributed to a number of factors.

COMPETITION


First, competition is now everywhere. This isn’t 2000, when the lone Prius alternative was a two-seat Honda with rear wheel skirts. Toyota’s own lineup is littered with hybrids, including three other Prius nameplates that produce three-quarters as much volume as the core Prius. Don’t forget the RAV4 Hybrid that now sells nearly as often as the Prius.

In bites and pieces, little by little, vehicles such as the Ford C-Max, Hyundai Ioniq, and Honda Insight have eaten into the Prius’s pie. Then there are the hybrid versions of mainstream cars, from the Ford Fusion and Kia Optima to Toyota’s own Camry.

Throw in a nascent EV segment, plus a new wave of attention-grabbing green cars, and the Prius’s initial thunder is long since lost. After peaking at over 181,000 sales in 2007, Toyota is on track to generate around 50,000 Prius sales in the U.S. in 2018. (From a high of 236,655 sales in 2012, the entire Prius lineup won’t likely top the 90,000 mark in 2018.)

CONSUMPTION


The increased level of competition hasn’t been the Prius’s only problem. The benefits of Prius ownership – namely, the fuel savings – have dwindled during its lifespan. In 2007, when Prius demand was at its zenith, a Prius owner enjoyed 46 miles per gallon in mixed driving. At the average U.S. price per gallon in 2007 of $2.79 and 12,000 annual miles, that Prius owner saved $794 compared with the owner of an all-wheel-drive 2007 Honda CR-V.

In 2018, two of three models in the Prius lineup are rated at 52 mpg in combined driving. With average fuel prices at $2.42/gallon and big leaps in ICE efficiency, a new Prius saves just $443 compared with a new CR-V over the course of a year.

You won’t be wrong in suggesting that the Prius and CR-V aren’t direct competitors. But don’t ignore the fact that Prius sales tumbled 60 percent since 2007 while CR-V sales jumped 71 percent during the same time period. The CR-V provides meaningful context. Regardless, the Honda is just an example of the advances made by the very vehicles American automobile buyers want. (Fun fact: the Prius’s fuel cost advantage over a F-150 tumbled from $1,504 in 2007 to $824 in 2018, using a 2007 F-150 4.6 4×4 and a 2018 F-150 2.7TT 4×4 as examples.)

CAPTIVATION


The fact that the Prius simply no longer holds the allure it possessed in a prior era is not lost on Toyota, as proven by the company’s push of the successful RAV4 Hybrid, by Prius Prime sales that have grown 34 percent this year to now collect three-in-ten overall Prius sales, and by Toyota’s determination to broaden the Prius’s appeal. As a car trying to relocate vast numbers of its own buyers that have fled for greener pastures, the Prius has company. Think of the Nissan Altima and Mazda 3, both of which are hoping to benefit from all-wheel-drive availability as new iterations launch.

True, they are still just cars, the very sort of machine that’s rapidly fallen out of favour in the U.S. market. But an AWD-e offering could be what Toyota requires to sell more copies of the Prius in Colorado and the northeast (even with degraded fuel economy that takes the Prius AWD-e back to levels the Prius first managed in 2010.)

Besides, the 2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e has ride height on its side. It sits two-tenths of an inch higher than the regular Prius. Don’t for a moment think that there won’t be Toyota sales consultants trying to turn that fraction of an inch into a selling point.

[Images: Toyota]

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

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  • APaGttH APaGttH on Dec 18, 2018

    We are way past peak Prius. Eventually, as sales continue to decline with America not wanting cars, the brand being associated with clueless left lane drivers, Prius no longer having the "look at me I'm saving the planet" mojo and competition from the Camry, Corolla (soon in AWD format also), and RAV-4 sitting on the showroom floor next to it, the Prius in NA will go away. Volumes in Japan can more than keep the Prius alive but every automaker eventually reaches the clinical decision that building a LHD version to NHTSA/DOT specs won't be worth it - when adding in the marketing effort, parts, training, and the fact that R&D investment lives on in other products benefiting from the drivetrain. The Prius is going away. Not next year, not the year after...but it is going away.

    • Stuki Stuki on Dec 19, 2018

      The nameplate _may_ go away, but until all cars are partially or fully electric, there is a market for one which is optimized from the ground up to be hybrid. So, in essence, it won't go away until all cars are Priuses. EPA ratings don't fully capture its fuel saving benefits over hybrid retrofitted ICE cars. Its small frontal area to interior volume, and aero shape, means mileage deteriorates less at more realistic Utah highway speeds, than Camrys and Corollas and Rav4s. While its lower weight and smaller, lower resistance tires and purpose programmed throttle tuning pay off in realistic city/stop-and-go driving. You just can't get its efficiencies from more traditional designs. And the difference isn't even negligible. For some people, this matters. Heck, it _may_, although perhaps in Prime guise, again be the fashion belle it once was, once people realize how stupid and dead end the currently fashionable pure battery electrics really are for many/most realistic usages.

  • Golden2husky Golden2husky on Dec 18, 2018

    Ultimately it makes no difference if the Prius name itself disappears. The concept of a hybrid powertrain is what counts and the Prius brought that into prime time. As the story points out there are plenty of models that now incorporate the technology into their portfolio. If Prius is limited to a car model only, it will follow the curve of decline like all other cars are doing. Frankly, does it make sense to have Prius-branded CUVs? With all the other Toyota CUVs and cars with HSD, I really don't think so. Perhaps the exception might be if gas jumps in price and buyers assume the Prius-branded CUV is more efficient than the others. That extra 10 MPG comes with some odd compromises to make it work. A good example is the climate control that provides a setting for "driver-only" climate control settings. I guess a tenth here and a tenth there adds up...

  • Art Vandelay I always liked those last FWD 300's. Been ages since I've seen one on the road though. Lots of time in the RWD ones as rentals. No complaints whatsoever.
  • Cardave5150 I've had 2 different 300's - an '08 300SRT and an '18 300C. Loved them both a LOT, although, by the time I had the second one, I wasn't altogether thrilled with the image of 300's out on the street, as projected by the 3rd or 4th buyers of the cars.I always thought that the car looked a little stubby behind the rear wheels - something that an extra 3-4" in the trunk area would have greatly helped.When the 300 was first launched, there were invitation-only meet-and-greets at the dealerships, reminding me of the old days when new model-year launches were HUGE. At my local dealer, they were all in formalwear (tuxes and elegant dresses) with a nice spread of food. They gave out crystal medallions of the 300 in a sweet little velvet box (I've got mine around the house somewhere). I talked to a sales guy for about 5 minutes before I asked if we could take one of the cars out (a 300C with the 5.7 Hemi). He acted like he'd been waiting all evening for someone to ask that - we jumped in the car and went out - that thing, for the time, seemed to fly.Corey - when it comes time for it, don't forget to mention the slightly-stretched wheelbase 300 (I think it was the 300L??). I've never found one for sale (not that I've looked THAT hard), as they only built them for a couple of years.
  • Jkross22 "I’m doing more for the planet by continuing to drive my vehicle than buying a new one for strictly frivolous reasons."It's not possible to repeat this too much.
  • Jeff S Got to give credit to Chrysler for putting the 300 as a rear wheel drive back on the market. This will be a future classic.
  • Lou_BC How to Fix Auto Media? Stop fixating on soft touch plastics and infotainment systems. I did quite a bit of research on my ZR2. There was no mention of the complexity of putting the transfer case into neutral. (9 step process). They didn't talk about how the exhaust brake works with tow/haul mode. No mention that the exhaust brake does not work with off-road mode. Nannies only stay turned off with the lockers engaged. Only one review mentioned the tail pipe as a vulnerability.
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