The Toyota Prius has pretty much always been focused solely on fuel economy. The design was driven by the desire to maximize MPGs. Driving dynamics took a back seat to fuel economy. If you bought a Prius (or leased one) you likely bought it for fuel economy – or maybe because it was affordable.
The redesigned 2023 Toyota Prius is supposed to change all that without sacrificing all that fuel-economy stuff.
Does it? Well, for the most part, yes. But is that good enough to lure in those who have long disdained the car as a wedge-shaped penalty box that existed only to lengthen the time between fill-ups?
LOS ANGELES – Like a lot of automotive enthusiasts, I’ve always been a little derisive towards Toyota’s Prius, mostly because the car has always been a bit lacking in guts. In fact, a running joke I have with a few other automotive journalists I know involves uttering the words “it’s always a f*cking Prius” when we come upon slower traffic during press drives. That’s because it often actually is a Prius holding up the works. I’ve dropped this line on many a California freeway, from Sacramento on down to San Diego. And, of course, I’ve said plenty of times bopping around my home base of Chicago.
I am typing this from 40,000 feet over the middle of nowhere as I travel to L.A. for the auto show. Sometime tonight I will see the next Toyota Prius for the first time, along with hordes of other shrimp-eaters. Until then, however, I can surf my browser over to the Google machine and find information on the Japan-spec Prius, which has already broken cover.
The Toyota Prius may have kickstarted the hybrid revolution, but its star has faded over the years as newer, more efficient hybrids have hit the market with less polarizing style. That’s about to change, though, as Toyota just released teasers for a new model that looks an awful lot like a new Prius. The Prius entered its fourth generation back in 2016, so it was time for an overhaul. Toyota's teaser of the new fifth-generation car appears to show an evolutionary update rather than a radical redesign.
Ahead of Honda’s planned EVs offensive for the United States, the automaker has announced a deluge of hybrid variants of existing products. However these new vehicles will come at the expense of the Insight, which the company had just confirmed will be discontinued after 2022. In its stead will be new hybrid trips for the CR-V, Accord, and Civic — the latter of which served as the template for the passing model.
It took many years before the first (non-wrecked) Toyota Priuses began showing up in the big self-service car graveyards I frequent, partly because Toyotas tend to hold together pretty well and partly because buyers of early Priuses seem to be the kind of car owners who obsess over the proper care and feeding of their vehicles. This ’03 Prius in Denver, painted in I Love Gaia Green™ (actually, it’s Electric Green Mica), appears to be one of those well-loved cars that finally just wore out.
Back when your author was the (soon to be not) proud owner of a 93-horsepower Plymouth, Toyota was prepping the American populace for a new kind of driving experience. A futuristic one, and a thrifty one, to boot. Two decades ago, it debuted a model that first appeared in its home country three years earlier: the Prius.
Eighty trillion jokes later, and after selling more than 1.9 million of the things to U.S. consumers, Toyota is marking the Prius’ 20th anniversary in this country with a limited run of special edition models. And they happen to look better than the stock Prius.
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.
The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid Is Now, by Far, Toyota's Best-selling Hybrid in America, Easily Outselling the Prius in 2019
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.
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.
On Wednesday, Toyota announced plans to offer royalty-free access to its cache of hybrid technology patents. While the automaker already licenses aspects of its Hybrid Synergy Drive to other automakers, the new strategy seeks to drastically expand the use of its systems as the world gears up for widespread electrification.
Toyota, cautious as ever, has been understandably hesitant to throw itself headlong into costly BEV development programs. It did have the foresight, however, to jump into hybrid technology earlier than most other manufacturers, and doesn’t want to see that edge lost as battery-only vehicles grow in popularity. Providing open access to the nearly 24,000 patents on hardware used in the Prius and Mirai could help the company stack the deck in its favor.
When it comes to electric vehicles, Toyota’s North American CEO seems to be on a different page than the company’s big boss, Akio Toyoda. A different page than Ford and General Motors, too. Maybe it’s because Toyoda has the entire globe in his sights, including many EV-hungry markets, while Jim Lentz can only look around, see low, low gas prices and a niche market dominated by a single player, and feel a rush of meh.
Lentz aired his views on our would-be electric future Wednesday, suggesting it would take draconian measures by the government to pry a healthy slice of Americans away from the gas pump. He’s not too enthused with Tesla, either.
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- Lorenzo Why aren't American firms trying to grab some of that loot, er, tax money? Either way, it's nice of them to create American jobs so people can earn back some of their tax money - after taxes, of course.
- Lorenzo I think it's time to retire the adjective 'electrifying'. It will only cause confusion now.
- Daniel J Until we get a significant charging infrastructure and change times get under 10 minutes, yes
- Mike I own 2 gm 6.2 vehicles. They are great. I do buy alot of gas. However, I would not want the same vehicles if they were v6's. Jusy my opinion. I believe that manufacturers need to offer engine options for the customer. The market will speak on what the consumer wants.For example, I dont see the issue with offering a silverado with 4cyl , 6 cyl, 5.3 v8, 6.2 v8, diesel options. The manufacturer will charge accordingly.
- Mike What percentage of people who buy plug in hybrids stop charging them daily after a few months? Also, what portion of the phev sales are due to the fact that the incentives made them a cheaper lease than the gas only model? (Im thinking of the wrangler 4xe). I wish there was a way to dig into the numbers deeper.