By on December 17, 2019

2020 Toyota Prius and RAV4 Hybrid - Images: Toyota CanadaYou weren’t crazy. In 2000, when the Toyota Prius first arrived in the United States only slightly behind the Honda Insight, it wasn’t unreasonable for you to wonder whether the odd little duck had a future. And to be fair, it didn’t. It wasn’t until Toyota launched a new generation of the Prius as a more practical liftback for MY2004 that a hybridized future appeared plausible.

With little in the way of competition, Toyota sold 107,897 copies of the Prius in the U.S. in 2005. That made the Prius more popular than the Volkswagen Jetta and Mazda 3; more popular than the Toyota RAV4, as well. By 2012, Toyota had expanded the Prius family to include a plug-in, a subcompact Prius C, and a Prius V wagon. The result: U.S. Prius sales peaked at 236,655 units in 2012.

And then, for the Prius, it all fell apart. Half a decade later, total Prius sales were less than half that strong. In 2019, Toyota is tracking toward fewer than 70,000 U.S. Prius sales, the worst year for the nameplate since 2004.

Yet Toyota is on a pace for its hybrid family to earn roughly 226,000 sales in 2019. Granted, those aren’t 2012 levels. And selling at that level does require an array of hybrid options. But regardless, it’s clear Toyota has found its Prius replacement. As the Prius’s star fades, the RAV4 Hybrid is now Toyota’s primary hybrid volume driver.

Toyota Prius four generations - Images: ToyotaAs Toyota transitioned into a fifth generation of RAV4, sales of the hybrid got off to a slow start in 2019. By the end of the first-half, however, the RAV4 was outselling the Prius line on a year-to-date basis. And it hasn’t looked back. RAV4 Hybrid volume is up 84 percent, year-over-year, through 2019’s first 11 months. That’s equal to 3,410 additional sales each month, for a total of 82,398 RAV4 Hybrid sales so far this year. Four out of every ten Toyota-brand hybrids now sold are RAV4s; one-third of total Toyota Motor North America hybrid volume (Lexus included) are RAV4s.

It’s a consequential result given the overarching RAV4 nameplate’s importance to Toyota. Don’t look to the Corolla or Camry to find Toyota’s No.1 seller – the RAV4 has outsold the No.2 Camry by nearly 100,000 units so far this year. Better than one-fifth – 21.3 percent – of the Toyota brand’s volume is now RAV4-derived. Toyota’s RAV4 orientation has escalated rapidly: the small utility vehicle’s share of Toyota sales is up from 20 percent one year ago, 13 percent half a decade ago, 10 percent a decade ago, and just 4 percent in 2005, the year Prius volume began to balloon.Toyota RAV4 five generations - Images: ToyotaExcluding pickup trucks, the RAV4 is now America’s top-selling vehicle, helped in no small part by a hybrid that generates one-fifth of its sales. The RAV4’s preeminence among Toyota hybrids is emblematic of the SUV/crossover shift that’s occurring in every aspect of the market. Hybrid variants of the RAV4, Highlander, UX, NX, and RX now account for 53 percent of Toyota’s U.S. hybrid deliveries thanks to a 63-percent year-over-year surge. Last year, SUV/crossover hybrids produced only 40 percent  of total Toyota/Lexus hybrid volume.

Heading into 2020, the RAV4 Hybrid is finally about to face stiff competition. Historically, the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape are the RAV4’s biggest challengers. Ford is getting back into the Escape Hybrid game; Honda is finally ready to launch a CR-V Hybrid.

First, the RAV4 has advantages: switching to hybrid adds just $425 to the cost of an all-wheel-drive RAV4 LE or XLE. (Ford’s Escape SE Hybrid is initially priced $1,160 beyond the regular SE. If the CR-V follows the Accord’s path, the hybrid will cost an extra $1,600.) Second, the RAV4 Hybrid offers a broad range with four trims in total. Third, the RAV4 Hybrid will soon be available as the RAV4 Prime, a plug-in option with 302 horsepower and 39 miles of EV driving range.

Yet Toyota’s recent hybrid fortunes, and predictable future success, masks the automaker’s apparent unwillingness to join other manufacturers in the EV arena. Model 3, Leaf, Bolt, Kona, Niro – none of these prominent electric vehicles wear a Toyota badge.

Toyota’s electric delay isn’t causing meaningful harm in the short term. Toyota USA sales are only slightly south of flat in 2019, hardly the discouraging scenario faced by the far more EV-active Nissan (down 8 percent) or the decidedly ICE-only Mazda (down 8 percent). Besides which, few automakers can lay claim to being more rapidly responsive to marketplace shifts than Toyota.

If, that is, the Japanese behemoth ever deems an EV response to be necessary.

[Images: Toyota]

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

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51 Comments on “The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Is Now, by Far, Toyota’s Best-selling Hybrid in America, Easily Outselling the Prius in 2019...”

  • avatar

    Well the new Prius is Honda Civic-level / horror movie ugly so no wonder its sales are down. The RAV4 might be one of the best evolutions of a product I’ve experienced. My aunt had a 1st gen example and it was utter crap: small, incredibility noisy, rough riding, junk paint, slow, cheap interior and so on. The new one could be the poster child for what the average consumer wants in a vehicle. They pretty much fixed everything, it seemed to improve at a rate that mirrored consumer’s love for lifted hatchs (aka CUVs).

    • 0 avatar

      Proves one thing: if you want to tank a model’s sales, make it ugly.

    • 0 avatar

      I test drove this weekend 2020 RAV4-hybrid. Not bad at all. Nice pick-up and accel. However, the space in the back seat is about 3 inches shorter than 2020 honda cr-v. Honda, this spring in a couple months, will push 2020 cr-v hybrid with 212 horsepower and 2 litter engine with 2 electric motors and no transmission at all in the hybrid cr-v. I am waiting for it and will buy it. I test-ddrove the 2020 non-hybrid cr-v and pick-up is sluggish. Only has 1.5L turbo, but even that is sluggish pick-up. Wait for 2020 cr-v hybrid and you will have more space and better pickup.

  • avatar

    kind of casts doubt on the claim that every car company should keep making sedans because everyone clearly wants them.

  • avatar

    The RAV4 Hybrid is having issues with the fuel tank not being to be filled completely, with the gas nozzle prematurely clicking off. No fix yet from Toyota.

    I wish Toyota had put as much effort into the non-hybrid RAV4 with an optional engine, such as the V-6 from the Camry, or the 2.0T from the NX300 over at Lexus. Really, any engine with some more power than the 2.5NA, other than a hybrid. Disappointing to me that this is what they have come up with so far. The old RAV4 with the V-6 was the best one ever.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    Having had several iterations of the Toyota Hybrids, starting with our beloved first gen Prius, I totally appreciate the tech and proven reliability. Still the best non EV solution to anything but a Hellcat. If Toyota made a Taco or Tundra Hybrid, I would be interested, but our next purchase will be likely a Tesla CyberTruck. The one thing I don’t really like about the Hybrids is the fact that the ICE part still needs all the usual servicing and costs to bear, not present in a EV. But, for certain applications, the Hybrid really is the best solution. And as much as I sort of like the Rav4, I do like the Prius, in a Godzilla meets Rodan kind of way.
    But back to the Hybrid Taco/Tundra….Seems like the best of all solutions to a wide open market and to one that rather needs Toyota reliability and low cost of ownership.
    But FFS, where are the Hybrid Vans? As we live in Canada, I was seriously tempted by a Estima Hybrid 4WD van, but ended up passing it up sadly,
    Toyota, you make cool stuff for other markets like the JDM, but why not sell them here?

  • avatar

    Imagine how many rav4 hybrids they’d sell if they could actually get batteries for them. Major delays and 6-12 month wait times, the rav4 hybrid XLE is rarer than hens teeth.

  • avatar

    “Besides which, few automakers can lay claim to being more rapidly responsive to marketplace shifts than Toyota.”

    [citation needed]

  • avatar

    You wouldn’t know the Prius is in decline nationally by looking around the streets of Seattle. Almost every Uber/Lyft driver uses a Prius, and there are lots and lots of fourth-gen models. They are so common I don’t notice the ugly anymore.

    There are also plentiful RAV4 Hybrids around. The RAV4 is a product where it’s silly not to buy the hybrid. It’s better in every way for basically the same money (at least before you get a bigger discount on the non-hybrid because supply is better).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Hybrids have three enemies:

    1. Better ICEs.
    2. Better EVs.
    3. Cheap gas.

    My 13 Optima Hybrid was rated for 36C/40H, and its mileage has generally been between 32 and 44 mpg. But its driveability isn’t great. And now there are standard ICE cars that can match those numbers without a hybrid system. I probably wouldn’t buy another hybrid.

    EVs now have great utility and many choices, without the complexity or driveability issues of a hybrid.

    And for those people who look to hybrids to save the planet or to save money, cheap gas makes a hybrid hard to justify.

    As for the Prius, I thought the 2004+ model was good-looking (enough), but the latest iteration makes it one of the ugliest cars on the road. No thanks.

    • 0 avatar

      1. Direct injection and turbocharging make ICE cars inferior. CAFE multi-ratio transmissions are farts in the wind compared to Synergy drive.
      2. The limiting factor of EVs is their batteries. Hybrids take advantage of the energy density of gasoline and prolong their own battery lifespans through narrow-band charge management.
      3. Cheap gas is a reason to drive a bullet-proof port-injected car with a manual transmission, not to buy something that was forced into production by a cretin elected by imbeciles. Would I have bought a hybrid a decade ago? No. I’d have bought something fun to drive and durable. Would I buy a Toyota hybrid now that they’ve been proven to be about twice as durable as the best Panthers? I just might.

      • 0 avatar
        Art Vandelay

        “Direct injection and turbocharging make ICE cars inferior. CAFE multi-ratio transmissions are farts in the wind compared to Synergy drive.”

        Blah blah blah. I’ll put my “multi ratio” transmission up against this any day of the week. 6 speeds shifted as God intended by by right hand with my left foot actuating a single dry clutch putting 197 direct injected turbocharged HP saddled to roughly 2700 lbs down.

        An automatic of any form in a car this size? If you buy it then frankly you are a chump.

    • 0 avatar

      4. Rust.
      5. Dead batteries.

      “the complexity or driveability issues of a hybrid.”

      I once thought the same but the Toyota HSD has proven itself. Other mfgs? Yeah those pretty much have failed and are long gone with all of their buyer’s money.

      “And for those people who look to hybrids to save the planet or to save money, cheap gas makes a hybrid hard to justify.”

      Oh but I can: I don’t want to plug it in like a laptop every day, but I need/want MPGs. Prius could do something to the effect of 52mpg.

      “As for the Prius, I thought the 2004+ model was good-looking (enough), but the latest iteration makes it one of the ugliest cars on the road.”


    • 0 avatar

      Hybrids serve a different purpose from EVs, at least while batteries remain $200/kWh. They’re cheap enough to be viable choices for most drivers; for heavy drivers, the Prius has the lowest TCO of anything with comfortable seating for four. They do fine in the Road Trip Scenario. How much cost advantage you get from them depends on how much of your driving is in the city. In a city cycle, hybrids soundly beat even the best pure ICE cars of similar capability.

      Soon, nearly every ICE vehicle for sale will have at least a small integrated alternator/starter/drive motor eTorque-style. Many more of them will be full hybrids. The current administration’s desire to pollute the planet to own the libs has delayed that transition in the US, but other world markets will continue to drive it.

      When produced by hybrid-experienced carmakers (Toyota, Ford, Honda), they don’t have drivability issues. They have the advantage of seamless start/stop and being able to idle with the engine off but the climate control working.

      • 0 avatar

        I realize Honda debuted the Insight before Prius back in the day, but their track record doesn’t seems to be as high as Toyota’s HSD (and I think Ford merely licensed the HSD system sans tweaks).

        • 0 avatar
          Art Vandelay

          Ford and Toyota were developing a similar Hybrid system at the same time. They simply agreed not to sue each other. There was no “Licensing” by either party…they just both sort of thought of the same thing at the same time.

          • 0 avatar

            Actually they entered into a patent swap/sharing agreement, however both were successfully sued by Paice over some of the key technology.

        • 0 avatar

          Honda didn’t get good at hybrid systems until recently. When I praise them, I’m talking about the modern Accord Hybrid/Insight system, not the old IMA.

    • 0 avatar

      Good hybrids ie Ford and Toyota don’t have driveablitiy issues and actually drive better than their ICE only counterparts in many situations and certainly better than the mechanical CVTs you find in some brands. Then throw in start/stop in conventional ICE vehicles ant eh Hybrid Toyota and Ford is light years ahead in driveablitily.

      In the case of the RAV-4 Hybrid its combined rating is better than any ICE only vehicle in Toyota’s line up. Lets see an ICE only vehicle beat the Corolla Hybrid’s 52 when they can’t even match the RAV-4’s 40.

  • avatar

    40 miles EV only range might mean dealers selling “fuel polishing” services, where they drain the tank yearly and add fresh gas.

  • avatar

    I doubt that for most Prius buyers it achieved anything. To just break even by saving gas takes 8 years vs compatible compact sedan, like Civic

    • 0 avatar

      Very much depends on where and how you are driving. There’s also maintenance; hybrids tend to save a bit on maintenance because of lower engine loads, meaning longer OCI, and less brake wear.

      If you drive ~7500 miles per year almost totally in city traffic, in a West Coast city with expensive gas, you might save $500 per year. That’ll pay off the price difference quickly. Drive more, and you pay it off even faster.
      (If you are an Uber driver you will pay off the difference in the first year.)

      If you drive 15k miles per year on the highway in a southern place with cheap gas, you might save $100 per year. Probably not worth it for most hybrids, if TCO is the only thing you’re considering.

      • 0 avatar

        It has to be a very special condition, actually many conditions must meet for you to save money. Yea, city Uber under condition that you will not total your car in the first 8 years, etc. $500 per year savings will not equate for fast recovery because comparable ICE car can be had for $4K less. This is 8 years.
        But it is definitely has to be a city person. Where I live, Prius is a waste of time. Even plain 2.4L Accord with CVT would make over 35Mpgs here in average

        • 0 avatar

          As recently as 2007, buying a Prius or Civic hybrid might net you single-occupant access to HOV lanes in peak commuter hours. That moved a lot of metal in various urban areas. Early on there were tax breaks too. Social engineering works in the short term, but only until you run out of graft.

        • 0 avatar

          “comparable ICE car can be had for $4k less”

          In most cases, including the RAV4 that’s the subject of this article, the difference is a lot less than that.

          • 0 avatar

            From Toyota’s website…..
            LE with 4WD option 27,250
            LE with 4WD hybrid 28,100
            $850 more and adds alloy wheels and dual zone AC as well.
            Road tests reveal the hybrid powertrain is less noisy than the 8speed + 4Cyl. No surprise there, the hybrid system keeps the ICE RPM as low as possible, including 0 RPM much of the time, particularly at less than highway speeds.

          • 0 avatar

            If I’m easy on the gas in my Highlander Hybrid I can do almost all of my driving without the gas engine ever exceeding 2000 rpm. Only uphill freeway sections need more revs.

            Highway mileage isn’t much different from the gas Highlander: 27 to 30 mpg depending on cruising speed. City mileage depends almost entirely on how hilly the terrain is. On the flat it’s 28-29 mpg. When I’m pushing the heavy beast up a lot of steep Seattle hills it can be as little as 23 mpg, but that’s still a lot better than a gas version would do under the same conditions.

        • 0 avatar

          Now it is true that some Hybrids are not available on the base model so there is a trim level paywall that they are hiding behind. However when comparing models of the same trim level the premium is less than $2,000 on the mass market cars. In the case of the RAV-4 it is only $850.

          The best AWD ICE only RAV-4 has a 30mpg combined rating while the Hybrid version gets 40 mpg.

          So to go 1000mi you’ll use 33.33 gal of gas while the Hybrid will use 25 gal. So you save 8.33 gal per 1000 mi, or about 100 gal a year for the average 12,000 mi per year.

          Where I live gas is currently around $3 gal so ~ 2 2/3 years to recoup your cost on the fuel savings alone.

          Live some place where fuel is $2gal then yeah your fuel based payback period is 4 years.

          Now I’m not sure about the Toyota but on my Ford Hybrids the oil change interval is 10k miles instead of 5k miles. So that is another $60 per year in savings. Then you have the brakes which last twice as long or more on the hybrid. So that is another $75yr over the long run.

          So now you are saving at least $360 per year and if you keep it long term $435 per year at $3 gal or $260-$335 per year at $2 gal.

          Then there is resale and I predict that you’ll end up making money on that one in the end, because the Uber/Lyft/Taxi drivers will pay an easy $1000-$1500 more for a Hybrid than they will for a ICE only version.

          • 0 avatar

            The savings would also be limited to the battery life, assuming the buyer wants to replace the battery. Otherwise the math seems to check out.

            “In his experience, the batteries last about 12 to 15 years (the oldest Prius cars on the road are now 20 years old).”

            “Although Chris said that it is rarely necessary we asked him how much it costs to replace a Prius battery and he said the typical budget is about $800 and that his dealership has a network of battery suppliers. It isn’t necessary to even go to a Toyota dealer, who can charge roughly triple that for a new replacement.”


      • 0 avatar

        When I drive my ’16 Prius mostly in the city the gas motor runs less than 2/3 of the distance traveled. So 7500 vehicle miles equates to 4950 miles on the motor, and actually less to due the system maximizing low RPM operation.

  • avatar

    i’ve stopped seeing 2nd generation Prii in my neck of the woods when they used to be ubiquitous. Still see plenty of same era Corollas, Civics, RAV4, CRV, etc…

    Guessing that when the battery conked out the 3rd/4th owners got sticker shock over the bill for a replacement and the car ended up getting chopped up for parts?

    and/or every used Prius got snatched up by the cab companies/Uber drivers and got driven into the ground?

  • avatar

    If you look at Toyota’s domestic market, all of their non-specialty products (ie. Supra, 86, Land Cruisers) are hybrid only or have a hybrid option now. The US market line-up is not quite there yet, but getting there too.

    The Prius, as suggested by its name, was meant to be Toyota’s technology showcase for their hybrid technology but that mission is now done. What we have now is a car with a futuristic design but without a futuristic technology.

    I’m guessing the fuel-cell Mirai (also meaning “future”) is now the new “Prius” as envisioned by Toyota. I won’t be too surprised if we don’t see a fifth generation Prius or come back as a something completely different.

  • avatar

    No comments.

  • avatar

    Just purchased a 2020 RAV4 Hybrid Limited in early December. KC dealers couldn’t get any and would not budge from MSRP so I drove to Okoboji, IA. I almost bought a 2019 gas engine RAV4 ($4500 off all gas models at a local dealer) but the Hybrid premium is only $800 additional. All Hybrid RAV4 models are AWD and the gas engine AWD models are only $800 less, so it was a no-brainer for the extra hp (219 in hybrid). The gas engine models are a great value, but they have significantly less power and sound kinda thrashy. Fantastic mileage is a hybrid bonus (41/37/39), but Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive is arguably the best drivetrain on the market and what sold me — smooth, quiet, efficient. This replaced a 2005 Expedition and I obviously wanted to downsize a bit with our kiddos off to college. Toyota’s Safety Sense™ is all-inclusive, too, and quite impressive. I test drove a Grand Cherokee, CR-V, Passport, and Highlander. Simply liked the packaging of the RAV4 vis-à-vis those others. The fit and finish compared to my ’05 Expedition is incredible. Everything is so well designed and bolted together.

  • avatar
    Art Vandelay

    I generally hate Toyotas. But my friend just got one of these and frankly it is much better than my wife’s Hyundai appliance. I’d put it on the list for her.

    I am sure it is more reliable long term than my ST as well, but I don’t quite hate myself enough yet.

    Come on Toyota…Corolla GT-S hatch. You built the LF-A so you can do this. But you won’t, because by in large, you suck. Maybe you could just rebody a Golf R or something…that seems to be your bag of late.

  • avatar

    @Tim Cain” If, that is, the Japanese behemoth ever deems an EV response to be necessary.”

    Ever deems an EV response to be necessary? I had to doublecheck the date of the article. Announcing 6 EV models plus saying that they plan to unveil their solid-state battery this summer isn’t a response? Not a mention of those announcements in the article.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      Just as automakers can bring forward their product plans, they can also roll back their product plans, as we’ve seen recently with M-B. Consider SkyActiv-X at Mazda, too. Or the plant Toyota intended for the Corolla in Alabama that will now, more likely than not, be dedicated to an SUV.

      I don’t doubt that Toyota can deliver on EVs. But when it comes to long-term plans and any automaker, seeing is believing.

      • 0 avatar

        ” But when it comes to long-term plans and any automaker, seeing is believing.”

        How about the steady stream of solid-state battery patents we’ve been seeing over the years? That’s seeing and believing. They lead the industry in solid-state battery patents. Do some research. They were obviously waiting until they had what they felt was the right battery technology. Now, they say they will unveil the battery during the Olympic Opening Ceremonies. It’s still not in mass production and that might not happen until the middle of the decade, but it’s coming.

        Both Toyota and Lexus have made announcements that the EVs are going to be coming next year. That’s not a long term plan in the automotive world. Why no mention in the article? Where’s the discussion of e-TNGA? Apparent unwillingness to join other manufacturers with EVs? Announcing several models, the “e-TNGA” architecture, and new battery technology doesn’t sound like an unwillingness to me.

  • avatar

    I have a ’17 Rav4 hybrid limited. The brakes on it are screwed up. Toyota can’t seem to fix them after multiple trips to the dealer. It also has safety sensors on the front bumper that can fill up with snow and dirt. When they do, get ready for crazy. The car will lock up the brakes in snow thinking you are about to run into something in front of you. It doesn’t unlock them until the car comes to a complete halt. When they lock up the car slides in the snow anyway it wants and people behind you have to lock up their brakes in the snow to keep from hitting you. It drives through the snow just fine, trying to stop it in the snow transforms it into a sled. You start praying it stops before you slide into cross traffic at intersections.

  • avatar

    I have a large music collection so I use a thumb drive full of mp3 files in my wife’s 2019 Rav4 Hybrid with the standard Entune system. There are two majors problems with this.
    The first is Toyota will not allow me to pick a new album while driving! I can only browse while stopped. I’m sure Toyota calls this a safety feature. It’s not their responsibility to police my driving habits. After 40+ years of driving without causing an accident I think I can safely select new music while driving.
    The second problem is after selecting a new album (while stopped), the audio system plays the songs in alphabetical order by song title rather than by track number as the artist intended. Imagine my surprise when listening to a Mendelssohn performance with two concertos and it mixed the two together. It ruined the performance. The same thing happens with Tommy by The Who. What would possess Toyota to use the wrong mp3 tag to select the order of songs to play? Has anyone else seen this problem or have a solution?

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