Toyota Hybrid Sales Surge in May; Too Bad About the Prius…

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jun 03, 2019

    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.

  • Conundrum Conundrum on Jun 03, 2019

    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.

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    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jun 04, 2019

      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.

  • Alan Like all testing and analysis work you need a good set of requirements. If you don't you'll find or end up with gaps.
  • Alan In aviation there is more vigourous testing, well, until Boeing changed things.
  • Alan This outcome was certain.The US, Australia and Canada need to approach this differently. A policy towards plug in hybrids should of been a first step. As in CAFE gradually tighten FE from there.There's no reason why you can't have a 2 litre F-150 with electric motors putting out 400-500hp. A 2 litre turbo is good for 200hp more than enough to move a pickup.Also increase fuel tax/excise every year to fill the void in loss of revenue.
  • Doug brockman hardly. Their goals remain to punish us by mandating unsafe unreliable unaffordable battery powered cars
  • Lorenzo It looks like the curves are out and the boxy look is back. There's an upright windscreen, a decided lack of view obstructing swoop in the rear side panels, and you can even see out of the back window. Is Lexus borrowing from the G-Class Mercedes, or the Range Rover?