By on April 30, 2020

2019 Toyota Prius AWD-e blue - Image: Toyota

It’s the Toyota Prius’ party and it can cry if it wants to. Two decades after its North American debut, the Prius is reportedly set to mark the occasion with a special edition. Whether or not the new reigning champ of the hybrid scene, the Prius’s own RAV4 Hybrid stablemate, is invited to the bash remains unknown.

Yes, the Prius has come a long way since its 2001 introduction, but time can either solidify a front-runner’s position or see it fall behind the pack, overtaken by changing trends. The Prius falls into the latter category.

As reported by Cars Direct, a 2021 order guide reveals the presence of a Prius 20th Anniversary Edition for the coming model year. The first such edition rolled out back in 2017 to mark the model’s debut in Japan.

When it shows up later this year, expect a loaded-up front-drive model with badges galore, baby. Low-end and volume mid-range trims will continue to be offered with electric all-wheel drive — a new addition introduced for 2019 to boost the Prius’ appeal and potentially reverse sliding sales. Of course, a year later the Corolla Hybrid came along, ready and willing to cannibalize sales of the company’s dedicated hybrid model.

It’s to the Prius’ credit that the large-and-in-charge (and volume-leading) RAV4 Hybrid and newly electrified Corolla exist. Indeed, the Prius, as the initial cheerleader of Toyota’s evolving hybrid drive technology, has a lot to be proud of. It helped make the brand a hybrid powerhouse, so much so that rival automakers now benefit from Toyota’s investments.

Still, it must be a little bittersweet for the Prius to see the success of other hybrid models coming at the expense of its own sales. The Prius, as Tim Cain told us recently, is not the model it once was. Back in the early days, the model’s name was so synonymous with virtuous green machines, it found itself lampooned by the likes of South Park and Family Guy.

As the model’s annual sales tallies fall, you could point to the styling excess of the fourth-generation Prius (later dialed back) as a major misstep, or you could blame the proliferation of hybrid technology and the rise of crossovers as America’s leading bodystyle. You can blame the model’s own earlier success for creating a stigma about the type of person who drives a Prius.

Whatever the reality of the situation, hybrids now await buyers at almost every showroom, and fully electric vehicles are the new hotness (or they were, back when dealers were open, trade shows could take place, and gas wasn’t cheaper than bulk grain). Toyota still doesn’t have an EV, though it does have a plug-in hybrid in the form of the Prius Prime. That’s another bit of credit due.

[Image: Toyota]

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38 Comments on “Its Best Days Behind It, Toyota Prius Prepares to Mark an Anniversary...”

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Anecdotally, probably the most reviled car in America. More anecdotally, one of my boss’s wife totaled her Prius with 330,000 miles. Two days later she had a new one. Strong is the commuter beast ethos with Prius owners. Last anecdote: For the “SJW” and “snow flake” commenters waiting in the wings; I worked with a retired Special Forces sergeant who owned a Prius. YMMV.

    • 0 avatar

      > Anecdotally, probably the most reviled car in America

      Only amongst a certain demographic, those who believe they’re doing their patriotic duty by driving a 12mpg brodozer.

      • 0 avatar

        I think it goes beyond that narrow crowd. There is a significant chunk of the American driving population that’s quite conservative, and holding on to the past. The Prius’ mere existence exacerbates their fears of emasculation.

  • avatar

    The other factor hurting Prius sales is that the hardcore greenies that used to buy them now want full EVs, so they’ve moved to the Tesla Model 3, or if they can’t afford it a Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Volt, or Hyundai/Kia EV. I understand Toyota’s rational on focusing on hybrids, but they’re is leaving money on the table by not offering a full EV too.

  • avatar

    In other news, gas is cheap. It was already cheap before it recently got ridiculously cheap. With multiple hybrid options available, from Toyota alone, it makes sense Prius sales would be cannibalized.

  • avatar

    I remember back in the 90s at GM when we got our first one of these for evaluation and teardown.
    Kudos to Toyota for building a machine with such great durability. Some truly superb engineering.

  • avatar

    My neighbor, who is decidedly not a car guy, drives one that he inherited from his mother. The time I got to ride in it, I was surprised by the interior room but perhaps I’ve been living in Mustang world too long. Anyways my neighbor uses it as a commuter vehicle and only fills up once a month compared to my 2x, or my wife 4x in the same time period.

  • avatar

    When the prius was new i said it was a trojan horse of a car. They could jave just put the hybrid tech in the corolla from day 1 but nobody woulda adopted it in the early days cuz hybrid tech was so new different and unknown buy consumers. They needed the LOOK AT ME styling of a unique bodystyle to get people to really consider the hybrid tech cuz it was so new. The gen 2 prius NAILED this job perfectly and as time went on and people saw this hybrid tech as safe and reliable and ecenomical, not just for political statements they adopted it and hybrid tech expanded to the rest of the toyota lineup starting with the 07 camry hybrid. Now were at the point people jave adopted hybrid tech we dont need a unique dedicated hybrid anymore amd the prius sales fall to hybrid rav4, hybrid corolla, hybrid camry, etc as really it could have been in the beginning. The Priuss job was to get people to notice amd adopt hybrid tech. Its job is done. Soon the prius will be gone, replaced with a hybrid corolla hatchback.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed, part of the key to the early success was that it couldn’t be just a version of one of the other models. There were those that bought it as a statement and it isn’t very effective at promoting your green cred if you have to look for a little badge. The Camry was the smart next step, both a step up from the Prius and their then best selling model.

      With the Corolla now available the Prius’ job is done and it is ready for retirement.

    • 0 avatar

      Or maybe the Prius will continue as Toyota’s first all electric car. It might have been better to do so before the sales drop, but if the name still has any green/tech cred it might be the right name to use.

    • 0 avatar

      > The gen 2 prius NAILED this job perfectly

      This right here.

      In March 2007 I got one as a company car. Sight unseen. My choices were a Malibu or a Prius. I didn’t hesitate–Toyota all the way.

      I bought it out, cheap, and I still have that car. My son drives it.

      I remember looking at the 2010 generation car, and realizing that Toyota was changing things just for the sake of it–and screwing it all up. From then on I’ve had zero interest in a Prius.

  • avatar

    I rented one of these a few years ago. The technology was impressive and the MPGs outstanding (at the time).

    BUT, it was not comfortable, quiet, or particularly fun to drive.

    Based on the actual driving experience, I found it to be on par with most 1980s penalty boxes.

    Maybe I got a bad example, but were I buying a car I had to live with, it wouldn’t be a Prius (of about 2014-2016).

  • avatar

    I can’t think of a car that has revolutionized cardom as we know it more than the Prius in the last 20 years.

  • avatar

    I live in Seattle, which used to be Prius headquarters. I can report that most of the individual Prius owners I know have moved either to RAV4 Hybrids or Model 3s. The Prius still utterly dominates the TNC (Uber/Lyft) market because it combines acceptable passenger and cargo space with very low cost of operation, but the consumer market has moved past it.

    • 0 avatar

      Interestingly most of the people I know who own a Prius, still own the one they have had for many years. The Prius is its own worst enemy, people buy it for low cost of ownership and they just keep going and going, so no need to replace something that is continuing to do its job as good as it ever has.

      The one that did replace a Prius did so with one of the ugly models, but if you saw this woman’s sense of style you would know that she thinks it is beautiful.

      Now of the people I know with RAV-4 Hybrids, 2 were replacing the non-Prius, non-hybrid in the family fleet, and the Prius just keeps keeping on. The other replaced a non-hybrid era RAV-4 and is the first hybrid for the family.

      The Model 3 people I know all came out of vehicles with a plug, Leaf, Focus Electric and C-Max Energi.

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, I’m on my second, buying it for all the good reasons listed above (and one of the bad ones FWIW), and every few months, I’m ready to sell it. In a home with a BMW, Lexus and mini, who needs the Prius? But it’s the car that won’t die. It’s the go-to choice for commuting, for road trips, best for low cost of upkeep (see above other cars, ugh). I’m not getting another one. Why would I? I’ll just keep on keeping this one.

  • avatar

    There are a whole slew of reasons for the Prius slide.

    I give it props. I actually kinda like hybrids. But even the current Prius has a few too many leaves and trees around it. I’d much rather just get a Corolla or Camry and avoid the Prius stigma.

    Interesting that not too long ago I think Toyota was thinking of making Prius a sub-brand. Probably a good idea they didn’t.

    • 0 avatar

      They started to when they first introduced the Prius V and Prius C. Now those are gone. Sales died out cuz most people would rather havw a camry hybrid or rav4 hybrid.

  • avatar

    The current economy, the current low price of gas and the awful overdone styling of the current Prius are not helping sales. It is a noisy car and rather unpleasant car to drive because they’ve left out the sound deadening to keep the weight down and improve the mileage a tick.

    But the price of gas could change in year or two and when it does, Toyota will be ready with a great proven product. GM, Ford, Chrysler? Not so much. They’ll be a day late and a dollar short as usual.

  • avatar

    Cheap gas aside, in the (albeit few in the US) areas where a meaningful share of commuters use public transportation or Uber/Lyft, cars like the Prius may be a beneficiary on virus contagion fears. It’s easy to park, easy to gas, easy to maintain, easy to get in and out of even in the narrowest parking spots, and just easy to live with in general. For people who would literally prefer to have an Uber or bus driver do the driving were it not for that dude named Corona riding shotgun, it’s hard to do much better than a Prius.

    On that note, is Elio still in business? Those little, stackable threee wheeled suckers appear, if possible, even more pandemic specific than the Prius. At least for people without kids.

  • avatar

    The justification for the Prius to exist gets weaker and weaker.

    I see almost no reason to buy one over a hybrid Corolla or the hybrid RAV-4, depending on needs in your form factor.

    You can’t even argue it has the “look at me I’m saving the planet” cred anymore. That belongs to a Model 3.

  • avatar

    The 20th Anniversary Edition should be renamed as the Pious.

  • avatar

    Everyone misses the point. The current Prius is so damn ugly, no thinking person would be seen in it.

    Having experienced an acquaintance’s 2012 model, I didn’t find it that awful, nor the styling that bad. It would have been a new experience to wobble around hypermiling, so I was considering one around 2015.

    Then the 2016 model happened. I couldn’t believe it. Absolute dross to look at. No way I was going to be seen in that ridiculous thing. It was the same for a lot of other people.

    2012 and 2013 US Prius sales — 235,000 each year
    2015 sales (with the new one on the way) 184,000
    2016 Dorkus Maximus sales — 134,000
    2018 sales — 87,000
    2019 sales — 70,000

    Styling can be bland and not affect sales. But make it a freak on wheels and people notice.

  • avatar

    Prius paved the way, its job is done now. Better styling won’t save it.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Forgotten in all this was GM’s true moonshot, the Chevy Volt. Truly revolutionary for GM. FWIW, my local Wal-Mart is installing chargers. Hybrids aren’t going away.

  • avatar

    This is an entirely American market centric conversation. The Prius is sold in many markets around the planet, it would be interesting to know how it’s doing elsewhere.
    One other factor here that hasn’t been mentioned is the Prius is a four-door sedan, and many sedan models have already bit the dust.

    • 0 avatar

      Yes. I was all excited to see JDM in Japan, and no, it isn’t there any more. Toyota is big in hybrids in Japan, and that covers every car, every line, except the very cheapest. You get used to seeing Hybrid everywhere. The problem is that US Prius doesn’t sell to drivers….along with non STi Subaru products, don’t get behind them at a stoplight. The technology is all over and if it was in an NSX or Ferrari we’d swoon.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I never hated the Prius even though I have been basically a pickup owner for the past 35 years. At one time it would have made a good commuter vehicle for me but putting 2k to 3k miles a year and working at home almost exclusively it doesn’t make sense. Having had my 2012 Buick Lacrosse E-Assist for over 6 months and just putting a little over 1k miles on it during that time along with cheap gas a Prius just doesn’t make sense. If I were driving 15k a year like I did 20 years ago I might buy a Prius. With a midsize pickup I at least have the open bed which I use a lot in the Spring and Summer. I don’t need a brodozer nor do I want one so a midsize pickup is more than enough.

  • avatar

    That’s an excellent point about the IV gen’s styling as the first blow to the Prius’ demise. Our Gen III was at 85K & I was ready for a refresh. Rumor was it would look more mainstream, which I was fine with & bam they go the other extreme. We kept the Gen III (still going strong), & eventually bought a (you guessed it) Tesla.

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