The sales and registration data speak for themselves regarding the success of the Prius. Its sales more than doubled in September, and are up 92% through nine months. However, because three new derivatives of the Prius have come to market in 2012 (the tall 'V' version, the plug-in version and the smaller 'C' version), comparing this year with last is not comparing apples to apples.
But even when you pull out the 2012 deliveries of these three derivatives and look just at the original Prius, its deliveries are up 33% through nine months. This is impressive given that one of the new derivatives, the Prius C, is priced below the original model. In the first nine months of 2012, the Prius was the thirteenth most popular model in the country, car or light truck. It's more popular than such well-known nameplates as the Elantra, Sonata, Equinox, Impala and Explorer.
There are two other noteworthy issues related to the Prius. First, Toyota is creating a new level in the U.S. new vehicle industry by creating a 'family' of Prius's. Traditionally analysts have viewed the industry at the OEM, make, model, and trim levels. Now Toyota has inserted the 'family' as a potentially new level between make and model. Whether this will stick remains to be seen. It is possible Prius will evolve into a fourth make in the U.S. for Toyota Motor Sales USA, though there is risk in doing so because the Toyota name goes away.
The second item is more significant. Two attributes of the Prius – its sales success and its unique design that makes it immediately identifiable as a hybrid – together are, in my opinion, gradually acclimatizing the U.S. culture to hybrid vehicles. There are now so many Prius's on the road that we are getting used to seeing them; they are increasingly taken for granted and less and less viewed as something special. We are accepting them as a normal part of the landscape, and this in turn means hybrids are also becoming 'normal.' This has major ramifications: the Prius may be the bellcow in moving the country towards fully accepting alternative-powertrain vehicles. In this way the success of the Prius goes far beyond the sales numbers.
Posted by Tom Libby, Lead Analyst, North American Forecasting, Polk (11.02.2012)