The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Is Now, by Far, Toyota's Best-selling Hybrid in America, Easily Outselling the Prius in 2019

Timothy Cain
by Timothy Cain

You 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.

As 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.

Excluding 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.

Timothy Cain
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  • Beerster Beerster on Dec 18, 2019

    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.

  • BobAColo BobAColo on Dec 24, 2019

    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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