Automotive Blog

Prius success goes beyond the sales results

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)

About The Author

Manager, Loyalty Solutions and Industry Analysis

Tom currently uses his passion for the auto industry to serve as a Solutions Consultant for IHS Automotive's Loyalty Practice. His past roles here include Sr. Forecasting Analyst and PolkInsight Advisor (he worked for two years in Polk’s Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey office). Tom's other interests include reading, gardening, sailing and running. Aside from Detroit and New York, Tom has also lived in Los Angeles, Denver, and Boston, where he drove a taxi for two years. Tom has also traveled extensively in the United States and overseas, including an overland trip across Asia after graduating from college. Tom is inspired by people who practice what they preach and enjoys socializing with friends that he's met throughout his career and from school.

Tom is a past member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Automotive Analysts (SAA). During the 2009 calendar year, Tom was President of that organization. He is an active member of the Automotive Press Association, and in the past has written a blog for the online version of the Detroit Free Press. Tom has a bachelor's degree in history from Amherst College, an MBA with a marketing concentration from Columbia University and once served as an Adjunct Professor of Market Research at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.