By on December 3, 2018

For two decades, the name “Prius” was all a committed Toyota buyer needed to know when searching for a compact hybrid vehicle. Soon, there’ll be two options, not counting the plug-in Prius Prime.

The automaker’s decision to offer a hybrid version of the still strong-selling Corolla was not made to usher its famed hybrid model into the shadows; rather, there’s two key reasons for it. Sure, the Corolla nameplate carries an enviable reputation and boatloads of name recognition, but Toyota’s also willing to admit that the Prius’ attributes just weren’t resonating with a certain segment of the American public. 

To be clear, the next-generation Corolla Hybrid is not earmarked solely for U.S. buyers. It’s on its way to 90 countries.

Jack Hollis, general manager of the Toyota Division at Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News that the first reason for expanding the brand’s compact hybrid presence involves fuel economy standards. The Corolla nameplate still sees boffo volume, and a hybrid version would help Toyota’s standing in the eyes of environmental regulators.

The second reason to water down the Prius’ importance in the lineup involves the type of buyer who might be in the market for a Corolla hybrid. The Prius just doesn’t play well with Hispanics, he claimed, but the Corolla does. As Hispanic buyers show a strong desire for Japanese brands, the presence of a gas-electric Corolla might sway hybrid shoppers into staying with the brand.

Lassoing resistant buyers is also the motivation behind Toyota’s unveiling, last week, of the all-wheel drive Prius AWD-e. While the Prius has seen its status (and sales) shrink amid newfound competition and the presence of PHEVs and battery electric vehicles, it’s still the first name that comes to mind when anyone mentions the word “hybrid.” But what works for buyers in one region might not work in another.

According to the model’s chief engineer, Shoichi Kaneko, the addition of AWD to the Prius’ equipment roster came about after Northeastern dealers demanded a Prius that could tackle the region’s notorious blizzards.

[Image: Toyota]

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24 Comments on “Why Two Compact Hybrids? Demographics Play a Role, Toyota Claims...”

  • avatar

    Although I’ve never been a Toyota fan in particular, I’ve never been reflexively anti-hybrid. My main issue with Prius (all generations) has been revolting styling and appaling ergonomics. A vehicle need not be purposefully ugly to announce its type of propulsion.

    • 0 avatar

      Ding ding ding ! Winner.

      The only Prius I have liked was the first one. The others look like camp tents on wheels.

      And the latest one adds a certain pre-wrecked quality to the mix.

      • 0 avatar

        The only Prius I didn’t at least respect was the first one. It was odd in many ways just to be odd. Also, it was 25% heavier than other cars its size, meaning that the only tires that fit it and could take the weight were special ones that cost far more than they returned in durability and performance. Later ones were roomy, useful cars that returned about 50 mpg and last longer than just about anything else you can still buy. They look funny because they have extremely low drag coefficients and hatchbacks.

        While their dashboards communicate things non-hybrids don’t need, there is no reason to put primary gauges in the middle of the dash. I’ll give you that.

    • 0 avatar


  • avatar

    “The Prius just doesn’t play well with Hispanics, he claimed, but the Corolla does.”

    Now I find THAT interesting. Is it the styling, because the current Prius is a bit…..unique.

  • avatar

    Doesn’t make any sense to me to have both the Prius and Corolla hybrid. They’re the same damn car, small sedan/hatchback hybrid. I mean, splitting hairs much?

    Put all of the resources and money into one car and make it excellent.

    Does Toyota really think Prius owners wouldn’t buy a Corolla hybrid because it’s not a Prius?

    The Corolla name has enormous brand equity worldwide, like the article points out. The Prius just isn’t that unique anymore.

    Ditch the Prius, keep the Corolla hybrid, and if Prius people don’t like it, they can buy something else.

    • 0 avatar

      Sit in one, and then the other. The architecture and details and feel will be completely different. Choice is good, right? For a company that probably offers a half dozen CUVs, two hybrids isn’t excessive.

      • 0 avatar

        They offer a lot more than two-hybrid sedans.

      • 0 avatar
        Richard Chen

        The Automotive News article mentions that the underlying architecture (TNGA) is the same, that the cars aren’t a whole lot different under the skin. The wheelbase is identical, just like the Matrix and 2nd gen Scion xB.

        Some people I know absolutely do not want a hatchback, others want better visibility out the back (me), and perhaps the Corolla hybrid will be cheaper than the Prius.

  • avatar
    Mike Beranek

    Prius attracts hipsters who insist on only purchasing brands that other hipsters admire. Regular folks will prefer the Corolla, which doesn’t look like a space ship designed by a drunken 3-year-old with a case of the shakes.

    • 0 avatar

      Prius isn’t even hipster anymore, and in a way it is kind of anti-hipster.

      Prius is pretentious. Hipsters think not cool = cool.

      Corolla is the opposite of pretentious. Corolla is a kind of the Pabst Blue Ribbon type of car. Perfect Hipster car.

      • 0 avatar

        “Corolla is a kind of the Pabst Blue Ribbon type of car.”

        Perfect description.

      • 0 avatar

        I think for the Prius it is even worse.

        Want to scream I’m saving the planet! You buy a Tesla.
        Want to scream I’m saving the planet and I like to save money! You but a Nissan.
        Want to scream I’m saving the planet and I’m a contrarian! You buy a Chevy (Bolt).

        The Prius has the stink of minivan aka in the late 90s or station wagon in the late 80s. It is uncool.

  • avatar

    The FWD Corolla Hybrid looks good, but it’s a FWD Corolla.

    The AWD Prius AWD looks good, but it’s a Prius.

    Connect the dots, Toyota: Corolla Hybrid AWD. Sold.

  • avatar

    I was ready for Hollis to relate “the type of buyer”-problem to the Prius’ polarizing (i.e., weird) styling, inside and out. But no: the easier-to-digest Corolla Hybrid is about appealing to Hispanics? Well, that’s a good one, Jack.

    • 0 avatar

      Does “Prius” translate into something negative in Spanish, similar to how “Nova” may have been perceived? (I thought the latter was half-true, half urban legend/myth.)

  • avatar

    Hollis can’t say it (aloud) –lest he commit seppuku– that the Prius is the fugliest car on Earth. THAT is the only reason for the Corolla Hybrid; otherwise, it’s like two wide receivers running the same route.

    • 0 avatar

      ^This. The 2G (and best selling) Prius was a nice, anonymous looking pod that did its job well.

      But the latest Prius has all these bizarre, late fifties’ era, sci-fi B-movie angles and the front looks, as someone else put it, like a Camry straining to take a dump. It’s no wonder hybrid buyers are going elsewhere for something a bit more normal looking (not to mention cheaper, too).

      That’s exactly where a hybrid Corolla would come in. The only problem will be that Toyota will only allow a hybrid Corolla sedan, and not a more practical hatchback.

  • avatar

    Sales have shrunk? The Prius is looking at its worst sales year since 2004 with sales in free fall. Off 9% YTD and off over 26% in November. A lot of other automakers would look at a decline off of a 198K peak with a struggle to get to 85K units a decade later just 2 years after a refresh as a dead product walking.

  • avatar

    I just bought a Ford Fusion hybrid. Anyone know how to remove the “hybrid” emblems?

    • 0 avatar

      Typically these are glued on at the factory. Warm up the glue with a hair dryer and then see if you can slide some dental floss between the emblem and the car body. Umm… is high setting too hot for clear-coat?

    • 0 avatar

      Why? Are you going for a custom de-badged look, or do you work in the Awl Bidness?

    • 0 avatar

      They are held on by double stick foam tape. If you can get a good grip twist them off. If you can’t get a grip a plastic scraper to tear the foam followed by using your thumb to roll off the remains of the tape.

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