By on June 3, 2019

2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e blue - Image: Toyota

The proliferation of hybrid vehicles has relegated the venerable, once-dominant Toyota Prius to a lesser plane of influence. This isn’t breaking news, as Toyota has seen the volume of its Prius family slide since 2012, falling below the six-figure mark last year for the first time in 14 years. Volume in 2018 was less than half of the number sold just six years earlier.

Still, the model’s decline stings. As May sales numbers roll in, the former darling of the green crowd finds itself outpaced even by a Ford sedan with no future.

As Bloomberg reports, the January-April period shows the Prius trailing the Ford Fusion in sales, when factoring in only hybrid variants of the doomed Ford. The data comes from LMC Automotive; unfortunately, the fact that Ford only reports sales volumes on a quarterly basis (and doesn’t break out Fusions variants), with Toyota reporting Prius sales as a vehicle family, prevents us from nailing down specific numbers.

The Prius nameplate, which encompasses the hybrid, plug-in Prius Prime, and remaining units of the discontinued Prius C, saw volume decline 23.7 percent, year over year, in May, with volume over the first five months of the year shrinking by 38.8 percent.

Toyota claims the volume loss is due to the addition of the refreshed 2019 Prius model, which started production in January and ramped up thereafter. This year also brings an all-wheel drive variant — Toyota’s effort to boost the model’s appeal (and demand) in wintry regions addicted to Subarus. The company expects 25 percent of Prius sales to come from the AWD-e model.

And yet competition continues to ramp up, and certainly not just from Ford. Rivalry from within Toyota’s ranks is also hot. The RAV4 Hybrid handily outsells the Prius family, with 19,347 units sold through the end of May. That’s an increase of 5 percent, year to date, with May returning a 155.9 percent year-over-year hike.

May seems to have brought about a sales surge for certain Toyota sedans, which in turn helped their hybrid counterparts. Camry hybrid sales rose 49.9 percent, year over year, with the gas-electric version of the new-for-2019 Avalon rising 16.6 percent for the month. The hybrid version of the equally new Lexus ES climbed 93.8 percent in May, with year-to-date volume rising over 104 percent. The new Toyota Corolla hybrid also came online recently, racking up 1,844 sales in its second month on the market.

Also up for the year are the Lexus NX and RX hybrids. All told, Toyota’s year-to-date hybrid tally falls slightly into the red, with a decline of 0.7 percent, despite May returning a hybrid spike of over 44 percent. Between the company’s two brands, results diverged. Toyota recorded a 9.9 percent decline at its namesake brand and a 75 percent rise at Lexus.

Toyota expects hybrid sales to pick up, including in the Prius family.

It’s a very, very slow ramp up,” Sam De La Garza, Toyota’s senior manager of small-car marketing, said of the AWD variant. “We need an adequate number of inventory in order to really start to blast the airwaves.”

Hybrid models of all descriptions made up 2.7 percent of all vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, LMC Automotive data shows, with the firm predicting a 3.8 percent take rate in 2019 and a 15 percent share in 2025. Demand continues to outpace that of fully electric vehicles, and LMC doesn’t see any sign of this trend changing. By 2025, it predicts a 4.5 percent EV take rate.

[Image: Toyota, Matt Posky/TTAC]

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25 Comments on “Toyota Hybrid Sales Surge in May; Too Bad About the Prius…...”

  • avatar

    You answered your own question about what’s going on. Used to be, a Prius was the only hybrid you could get. Now you can get a hybrid version of literally any kind of vehicle — SUV, commuter, luxury car, etc. — from half a dozen manufacturers. The Prius differentiates itself by two things — a willingness to go that last half-ounce for maximum efficiency, and unique styling. But if you just want to save gas, there are nicer hybrids to do it in; and if you want to be visibly green, by now you’ve probably graduated to a car that doesn’t use gas at all.

  • avatar

    Toyota reached the TLOU with Prius – Terminal Limit on Ugly, which is defined by an intersection point on the chart of Ugly vs Sales graphs. Lexus SUV models are not far behind.

  • avatar

    The latest Camry Hybrid LE is great, same 53/51mpg rating as the horribly ugly Prius, much better ride/handling, more power. Gets you a few nice things like climate control and heated (cloth) seats over a non-hybrid LE. It’s the Toyota sedan to buy right now IMO.

    • 0 avatar

      I agree. Get the Camry hybrid LE. Do a wheel swap and drive it for 10+years with a super low TCO.
      If I wasn’t filled with power lust that’s what I’d do.

      Mulch barons and the older folks with bad knees might prefer the RAV4 flavor though.

    • 0 avatar

      Ratings are one thing, real life is another. In real life the Prius does about ~52MPG vs the Camry’s 43MPG or so. How much this actually matters is up for debate- based on current gas prices we are talking about $12 for every 1000 mile driven. I’d gladly pay that to lop 3 seconds off a 0-60 run and have 1-2 levels more refinement. Even with gas approaching $3/gallon the Prius gives up too much for too little.

      I think it’s time for Toyota to take another crack at the HS… stuff the Camry’s HSD setup into a premium compact Kammback.

      • 0 avatar

        Looks like the 2018 Prius is averaging 50.8mpg on fuelly to the Hybrid LE Camry’s 44.6, albeit the Camry has a very flat/dense distribution around 47-52mpg. That’s most definitely a narrow enough gap for me to go running to the Camry. Or else I’d go in the opposite direction in cost to avoid the Prius ugliness: Corolla hybrid. The Prius does have that hatchback utility, that much can’t be denied.

        • 0 avatar

          On the topic of regular-looking Hybrids, I just had a Fusion SE Hybrid rental, and really rather liked it. I’d like to compare it to a 2.0T, as I generally like that motor in my rental Edges, certainly more engaging than the e-CVT of the Hybrid. But my rental got me an easy 43mpg indicated with a lot of faster highway driving with the AC going. The Fusion’s a porker though, 3700lb in Hybrid SE trim, and feels every bit of that. The new Camry Hybrid undercuts it by a good 250lb, my wife’s 2012 Camry SE 2.5 is a featherweight by comparison at 3200lb, and feels much more direct and controlled to drive, as hard as that might be to believe.

          • 0 avatar

            Hybrid Fusion is very slow compared with 2.0EB one. I rented Hybrid Fusion also and liked driving it in city but for freeway it is too slow.

          • 0 avatar

            I was surprised at how soft the suspension setup was as well, the poor on-center feel of the steering wheel, and VERY spongy brake feel (specific to Hybrid no doubt). Not sure how different a regular Fusion SE feels, and whether the steering was an alignment issue (although my rental only had 3k miles and no signs of abuse or damage).

          • 0 avatar

            I own 2018 Fusion Titanium AWD and suspension is stiff. Stiffer than ’14 Fusion Titanium FWD I had before that. Steering feel in the center in these cars is also different – I liked ’14 steering more. Fusion steering is electric and it depends on programming. ’18 has 245 hp while ’14 had 235 hp – both 2.0T. ’18 AWD one is more fun to drive. But since Ford is killing Fusion all bets are off. BTW for the same money I could buy BMW 3 series. That thought crossed my mind but exited very quickly for obvious reasons.

      • 0 avatar

        “In real life the Prius does about ~52MPG vs the Camry’s 43MPG or so.”

        The higher-end Camry (are they still doing it that way?) that has the older, NiMH, non-explodey-type batteries, that does about 41-42mpg real-world. The Camry LE, which gets the more Prius-like powertrain, is good for about 47-49mpg real world, as is the less-refined Accord hybrid. You’re right that comparing 43mpg to 52mpg is diminishing returns. But it means most drivers will burn one gallon less a week. That’s still kinda cool.

        The Prius is ugly as sin and I’d also much prefer the Camry Hybrid, but it’s really much nicer to drive than you’d expect. I think it’s one of the most well-rounded hybrids. Still wouldn’t buy one, I’m ugly enough myself!

  • avatar

    I just read yesterday that 5-year depreciation on the Prius is now over 50%, which is another indicator of oversupply and soft demand in the market.

    If you want to drive around screaming, “I’m saving the planet,” thy name is Tesla.

    The Prius is becoming as uncool as Crocs, mom jeans, and the minivan.

  • avatar

    well, Tesla is the “green car du jour” now, so a Prius no longer broadcasts enough smug in comparison. people who just want better fuel economy would rather a conventional looking car instead of the [email protected]$$ Prius.

  • avatar
    Steve Jacobs

    Back in February I was looking a hybrids and plug in hybrids. I went to two Toyota dealers in the area. Each said the Prius was no long being sold in the US. They were glad to show me camera hybrids.

    I knew it wasn’t true since the car was till on the Toyota website, but didn’t really want to seriously consider Prii anyway, so I didn’t follow up.

    Anyway, for whatever reason, this might have something to do with the model’s decline.

  • avatar

    If you are coming out of a Ford RCL, a dealer in Los Angeles will lease you a new 2019 Fusion Hybrid SE for $999 Down and $199/month for 36/31,500. Whatever the mileage of the Fusion vs. the Camry and Prius, I would think that this would be the winner on TCO. I had driven a new rental 2017 Hybrid SE and while I agree it was a bit of a porker, it was a great freeway cruiser. Biggest drawback in my mind is the battery pack taking up so much of the trunk.

    • 0 avatar

      Agree with all your observations. Felt “heavy,” but didn’t come across as under powered. Nice exterior styling, fit and finish in the interior was nice with nice quality. The video-game style instrumentation settings were a bit over the top for this Gen-Xer. Agree 100% the biggest issue is the battery taking up trunk room.

  • avatar

    Too bad this doesn’t indicate an end to the Prius driver. They’ll just graduate to something else.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I have seen a number of Prius around me that have reached hooptie status and some not that old. Hooptie Pontiacs and Buicks are now being replaced by Prius. Used Prius are becoming cheap enough that those who drive hoopties can now afford them.

  • avatar

    My friend bought Prius recently and she told me that all her friends were advising her against buying Prius because of it’s funny looks. She still bought but she was under pressure to buy something else.

  • avatar

    I was all set to get a Prius, junky interior, crap handling and all, just as an experiment to see what was going on. A friend in the UK had done it and overall liked it once he got used to the quirks. It wasn’t outlandish to look at, merely telegraphed its credentials so that the denier crowd could point and jeer, and that would merely make me laugh.

    Then they produced this current creature from the nightmares of the deep, and all my interest evaporated. No way this misshapen “thing” was coming to my driveway. There are limits, and Toyota handily exceeded them. I think a lot of other people feel the same way. It’s to be derided as an amateur sci-fi blathering, a total miss, no reason to aspire to it, a missed opportunity to raise the bar.

    Buying some other Toyota vehicular nonentity that happens to have hybrid synergy drive interests me not in the slightest.

    My vote is that stupid styling killed the Prius. Whether true or not hardly matters, its ship has now sailed.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed. Gen 2 Prius now looking back is actually kind of handsome and neat. Gen 3? At least palatable. This current generation is truly awful, full stop.

    • 0 avatar

      Original Prius was very practical and cool design. It had a room of midsize car with footprint of compact hatchback and being hatchback did not hurt. Interior was futuristic and well made. Driving was crap though most likely. I hate Corolla and I assume it was based on Corolla. These days there are better choices though like that Fusion. Almost 90% Fusions I see in CA are hybrids. My friend traded in Acura TSX for Fusion Hybrid and likes it.

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