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2014 Toyota Prius Plug-in is quietly the 4rth best-selling electrified vehicle in the US

Toyota held off on introducing the Prius Plug-in until the regulatory rules and tax incentive programs were in place. Since its introduction its sales have been steady, just like most electric models.

One of the most interesting things I saw at the 2010 Boston Auto Show was Toyota's Plug-in Prius. At that time the internet and forums were abuzz with people clamoring for plug-in hybrids. Then Toyota did not introduce the car. For some reason it waited another 14 months. Finally it did launch the car and in April and November of 2012 more green car buyers chose the Toyota Prius Plug-in than any other electrified car. It happened again in October 2013 (this past year). On those three months the Prius outsold all the electric cars on the US market. Not combined, just on a direct one on one comparison basis. For the past twenty months the Prius Plug-in sold an average of 1,000 units per month. Mostly in California and other target markets where zero emission vehicles are mandated by state law or regulation. That makes it the fourth leading seller behind the Volt, Leaf, and Tesla Model S, which all have a run-rate of about 1,900 units per month in the US. The Prius Plug-in outsells the next competitor by almost a 2-to 1 ratio. That car is the Ford C-Max Energi.

This relatively flat growth curve for each model of EV and plug-in makes us wonder if the automakers are purposely holding down the availability of these vehicles (Tesla excluded) in order to only sell what they need to in order meet their regulatory obligations. That is not an original thought on our part. EV advocates have been saying this for some time. We exclude Tesla because by all measures the demand for the Model S is far outpacing the current production volume of this new automaker. We have no doubt that Tesla could easily sell many more Model S cars if it could make them. Indeed, we suspect it will do just that in 2014. The other automakers have no excuse. Toyota, GM, and Nissan can make as many EVs as they decide to.

What makes green car buyers choose the 2014 Prius Plug-in? Without re-writing the car’s sales pamphlet we will repeat exactly what Toyota says of the car. It is “the hybrid you love, now with a plug.” The upside of the Plug-in is that one can travel about 11 miles (according to Toyota) on electric power alone if fully charged. When that runs out, or if you drive onto the highway, it will simply turn back into a 50 MPG Prius, which is by far the leading selling green car on Earth. A lot of people must like something about the regular Prius models. It sold 222,000 of them last year.

There are other advantages too. Like an EV, the Plug-in Prius can pre-condition its cabin, and in some places you can get a high occupancy lane sticker for it. Also like an EV your neighbors are going to help you pay for it. There is a $2,500 federal tax credit (compared to the $7,500 for a full EV) and in California the state will give you $1,500 more. So there is $4,000 available to help offset a cash purchase or lease. According to California’s green car buying guide the 2014 Prius Plug-in will cost you $25,990. The 2013 model was more expensive. Still, that is more than twice what a Nissan Leaf will cost a buyer in California. So why would a green car buyer choose the Prius Plug-in over a Nissan Leaf? All indications point to the reason being that the Prius Plug-in never runs out of range. It can be fueled up in under 5 minutes at any corner gas station and then drive like any other Prius for hundreds of miles. Or it can be driven 11 miles on full electric and then recharged.

There is another advantage of the Prius Plug-in. It can charge at home on a dedicated 115 volt, 15 amp circuit. In fact, it only takes 3 hours to top off using that power source. Other “full” electrics require more powerful and sometimes, more elaborate charging set-ups. Charging has been quite the hot topic lately. Of course, full electrics can store more electricity and travel much farther.

Lately our news feed on Facebook has included a lot of cost comparisons showing EVs to be lower in cost to operate compared to ICE vehicles in the winter. Interestingly, they never add a third category and include the Plug-in Prius or other new hybrids. Maybe the math isn’t so favorable?

Photo by the author shows a Toyota Representative holding the charger for a Prius Plug-in in 2010.


MM (not verified)    January 24, 2014 - 4:19PM

Relatively interesting, but you have GOT to fix the blatant errors in this article:
First off:
"Volt, Leaf, and Tesla Model S, which all have a run-rate of about 1,900 units per year in the US."
No. Per MONTH.

"relatively flat growth curve for each model of EV and plug-in"
No. The Leaf sold 23K units in 2013 and 9,800 in 2012.

John Goreham    January 24, 2014 - 4:38PM

Thank you MM. I appreciate that catch. I have edited the story to correctly say "Monthly" run rate where I mistakenly said "Yearly." - - You're right that the Leaf grew in overall sales year-on-year from 2012 to 2013. This after the 2011 and 2012 sales were almost exactly the same at about 10K units. However, the monthly sales have been pretty consistent since about September of 2012. In Q4 of 2012 the Leaf sold about 1550 units each month, then sales dropped like a stone in Q1 of 2013 for that model. Combined the Leaf, Volt, and Model S have been relatively flat since that period. Cars in general grew 7% last year. - - I do think that will soon change and these three will all grow in 2014. The price cuts and incentives are just too much to pass up. The direct tax subsidies to a California buyer for a base Leaf are almost 50% now ($10K on a car costing about $21K). - - Q4 of this past year looked great, and had Tesla not sold so many Model S cars form its production in Q4 to markets outside the US I think it would have been fair to say that the uptick already started. Thanks for reading and commenting. When the three leading EVs sales go up, I will report it accurately.

Modern Marvel Fan (not verified)    January 24, 2014 - 5:52PM

Who writes this article? "There is another advantage of the Prius Plug-in. It can charge at home on a dedicated 115 volt, 15 amp circuit."

All plugin cars can do that. They all come with 120V adopters. In fact, all cars charge at EXACTLY the same rate on 120V. Prius Plugin is faster b/c it has the SMALLEST battery on board. So, when Prius is done, it will have the same EV range that other plugin cars have too...

Saying how fast it is done charging on 120V is absolutely USELESS information for any buyers... That is like saying that I will fill up my gas tank faster since it is only a 2 gallon tank where other cars have more than 16 gallons...
That is just silly.

Why do you keep repeating the Toyota marketing slogans?

Just watch, once the California run out of the green HOV sticker (expected summer 2014), the Prius Plugin sales will plunge in a big way....

John Goreham    January 24, 2014 - 6:08PM

In reply to by Modern Marvel Fan (not verified)

We have covered the installation of EV chargers that are actually being used by owners of Leafs and Model S cars. Those setups are significantly more expensive to install than what the Prius PIH uses. True that the rate of charge would be the same. I think I gave the story some balance when I say "Of course, full electrics can store more electricity and travel much farther." I also think the Toyota slogan I repeated here makes sense. It explains the car's appeal. Had I said "Let's Go Places" or "Ask someone you know about Toyota" then I think I could be called out for simply repeating the Toyota Slogans. :) Thank you for your feedback. It keeps me on my toes for future stories.

Modern Marvel Fan (not verified)    January 24, 2014 - 5:54PM

LEAF sold well b/c it is almost FREE in Georgia. GA gives additional $5K for leasing of the LEAF at $199/month.

So, it is a FREE car in 2 out of 3 year lease. If FREE doesn't work, then nothing will move the LEAF. LEAF sold close to 1,000 units in Georgia alone in December 2013. LEAF sold well in CA b/c you can get the cheap lease rate AND CA cash rebates of $2,500. That is 1 free year lease on a 3 year term.

rickehrlich (not verified)    January 24, 2014 - 6:35PM

a "plug-in hybrid" is a curious bird, really a gas guzzler that is a little bit better than ordinary gas guzzlers.
if you want to drive an electric car, drive an Electric Car ! one that does not use gas, ever.

Andre (not verified)    January 25, 2014 - 1:20AM

In reply to by rickehrlich (not verified)

The Prius is hardly a gas guzzler. Our non-plug-in Prius gets 45mpg. I would imagine that the plug-in one is slightly better. I was told however that the EV range on the plug-in Prius is a mere 11 miles. That is hardly remarkable. They are just letting you top-off the little battery while parked at home. If you really want an EV that can also use gas, then the Chevy Volt is the hybrid for you. Personally, I'll stick with my LEAF.

Doug S (not verified)    January 25, 2014 - 12:30PM

In reply to by Andre (not verified)

An electric with a range of 100/200 miles would be a excellent choice for a second vehicle. I see you have two vehicles and both an excellent choice when it comes to available green cars with value. GM will debut a pure ev next year beating Tesla to a affordable mass market 200 mile range vehicle. If they do Tesla stock will tumble. Elon Musk was spending too much of his valuable time on other ventures instead of a 24/7 approach to Tesla. I have been in business for 41 years and no matter how good your mgt team is the vision comes from the visionary. When the inventor is absent the mgt team squabbles begin. Team to team infighting develops. I believe this happened at Tesla. I want to see Tesla succeed and get Mr Musk back hammering his visionary dream on building the best company on this planet. He needs to appear and direct everyday operations and meet with his mgt team on a regular basis.

Doug S (not verified)    January 25, 2014 - 8:25AM

I would not pay the premium cost for the plug in vs the gas model especially the Prius. IN addition the Prius gas model has outstanding resell value while the plug in isn't accepted in the overall used car buyers market. I would definitely consider buying a Prius when its redesigned. I drive a vehicle everyday and want a vehicle that has a 21st century design. If Toyota places the hybrid system in the recently debut fuel cell vehicle then I would consider buying one.