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Is the Toyota Prius Really The Top Trade-In For Tesla's Model 3?

Perhaps the Toyota Prius is really the top trade-in for Tesla's Model 3, but the evidence is a bit thin. Here's why.

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The press is gleefully, and perhaps inaccurately, reporting that the Prius is the top trade in by those purchasing new Tesla Model 3 cars. If you will allow us a "straw man" argument, "A new green car leader" is the sort of general theme to the stories, and some report that Elon Musk was the person who delivered the news. First off, it wasn't Elon Musk, and second what was said is a bit different than is what is being widely reported. Then there is the third issue - Tesla doesn't even accept trade-ins in every location or in every state.

Before we go too far, Toyota has sold 53,436 Prius cars (total Prius family cars) through the end of July. Tesla has sold about 38,000 Model 3 cars in the U.S this year. Toyota has sold over 6 million Prius cars globally since the model was developed about two decades ago.

The Prius has always had its share of haters. The performance car community was the first, and arguably the most logical, of the fuel-sipper's hate club. The Prius is the antithesis of a performance car. Oddly, the EVangelists have found a reason to hate on the world's top-selling green car as well. It's hard to explain their motivation since quite a few EV owners are prior Prius owners. Perhaps some really just want battery-electric cars first and foremost. It's hard to say.

Let's break down the news as it was generated, not as it was reported. First up, here is a clipping of Tesla's August 2nd earnings call. The transcript is free from Seeking Alpha and NASDAQ offers a link to it from their own site.

Speaker: Robin Ren - Tesla, Inc.
Yeah, this is very interesting. So, we looked at what people who are buying Model 3 cars in the United States, what cars they are trading in. What we found is through this year, from January to July, the top five non-Tesla cars people are trading in to get into a Model 3, they are Toyota Prius, BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord, Honda Civic and Nissan Leaf.

Speaker Elon Reeve Musk - Tesla, Inc.
Really surprising.

Speaker Robin Ren - Tesla, Inc.
Yeah. They are surprising because they are not the traditional premium sedans. They are actually – many of them are mainstream midsized sedans.

Speaker Elon Reeve Musk - Tesla, Inc.
Right. And we're obviously at this point not yet selling our $35,000 car, so this is promising for the future. All right. Cool. Next question?
(End Quote)

We've added the word "Speaker" to the transcript to help make it flow and we made bold the words, "Top-five non-Tesla cars." As it turns out, Tesla did not reveal that the Prius was the top trade in. It may well be, but the speaker, Robin Ren, excluded Tesla cars from the trade in list. Why do that if the top five does not include a Tesla model? It isn't necessary to point out that Tesla models are excluded unless one of them is in the top five.

Second, Ren does not tell us they are "in order." We presume they are. But why make any presumptions? Last, what about the states in which Tesla does not accept trade-ins? Tesla may very well have a detailed survey that reports this info and has included it. We don't know.

What we know, that many publications reporting on Model 3 trade-ins don't, is that Prius owners often own a second or third vehicle. It makes sense to us that they would trade in the Prius for a Model 3. If you are wondering what cars, trucks, and motorcycles former Prius owners may be holding on to, check out our report on the other vehicles Prius owners also own.

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Matt (not verified)    August 30, 2018 - 6:18PM

I strongly debated getting a model 3 over my Prius Prime. It came down to where I’m located(Iowa) and no real charge network(see Nebraska) to go west, which is where most of my road trips take me.

Josh (not verified)    August 30, 2018 - 6:20PM

Toyota has been perfecting FCVs for over 20 years. They are already developing FC heavy commercial trucks and they're using them in trucks at some ports in the US already. Hybrids and EVS were "astronomical" in price as well at the start. Things come down in price over time. There's virtually no difference between EV and FC with the comments you're making.

Angela (not verified)    August 30, 2018 - 6:21PM

My boyfriend was debating whether to get a Tesla or a Chevy Volt. He ultimately went with the 2018 Volt, which was a way better option. We take a lot of road trips and we've heard horror stories of people taking road trips in a Tesla only to have to stop every so often to charge up or worse... run out of charge with no charger nearby. The backup gas tank in the Volt made the choice a no-brainer. Even while on gas mode, he still gets 40 mpg. I have my Prius so now we have his and hers hybrids.

joe Schmo (not verified)    May 7, 2023 - 10:46AM

In reply to by Angela (not verified)

Ive owned a model Y for 2 years and go on road trips between cities. Ive never ever come close to running out of battery because there are super chargers everywhere. How you know people who say theyve run out without being near a supercharger is a mystery to me since the cars computer literally plots out your trip and any stops youd need to charge. Even if i was on a multi day trip the car only needs to stop, say every 3 or 4 hours... exactly when I NEED to stop for a bathroom brake and to grab a coffee or bight to eat... stretch my legs etc. By the time I get back to my car its either done charging or almost done.

Ryan (not verified)    August 30, 2018 - 6:22PM

Tesla Model 3 is not for my use, I need proven reliability. The Prius has that over anything else in the segment. Now my girlfriend’s Escalade on the other hand.. might replace that with a Model X in a couple of years if the price is right on a used one.

Christopher (not verified)    August 30, 2018 - 6:23PM

No. I had the Prius Prime first then we picked up our Model 3. The Model 3 *does* ruin yourself for other cars but the Prius is good for what it is. It’s our never worry car that always works.