Toyota is deservedly associated with leading the charge to fuel-efficient vehicles. The Prius is the poster child for modern-day efficiency, and the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) was the top-selling affordable electric car of 2018.
Despite those achievements, Toyota has tarnished its reputation in many corners of the EV community with advertising that knocks all-electric models and using misleading terms to describe the technology of its hybrid vehicles. After all, if "self-charging" is the term of choice, every manufacturer with an EV capable of regenerative braking can make this claim with much more gusto than Toyota.
Thankfully, sales of the 2019 Prius Prime give Toyota a way out of the corner into which it has backed itself.
2019 Prius Prime Sales Shine for Toyota
In May, sales of the 2019 Toyota Prius Prime topped the chart of the best-selling plug-in hybrids.
Now that GM has consigned the Chevy Volt to the annals of EV history, it's a two-horse race in the battle for PHEV supremacy.
The 2019 Honda Clarity Plug-in Hybrid held the top spot for the first two months of the year, but Toyota was the clear leader heading into Q2, as these sales estimates for the past three months demonstrate:
Prius Prime - 1,820
Clarity PHEV - 1,311
Prius Prime - 1,399
Clarity PHEV - 981
Prius Prime - 1,914
Clarity PHEV - 816
(MARCH TO MAY 2019)
Prius Prime - 5,133
Clarity PHEV - 3,108
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In total, Toyota outsold Honda by 65% in this category over this three month period. This success gives Toyota a way out of the corner into which it has backed itself with some electric vehicle enthusiasts.
Toyota Can Come Back from the Brink
Although the Prius Prime only has an EPA-estimated electric range of 25 miles, the fuel efficiency of 54 MPG and combined range of 640 miles attracts buyers who aren't yet ready to make the jump to an all-electric vehicle. Toyota offers these drivers the futuristic feel of a pure EV and the ability to plug in, without altogether abandoning the convenience of gasoline.
As Torque News Toyota writer John Goreham highlighted early this year:
"With 27,595 units sold in 2018, the Prius Prime from Toyota beat out the Bolt's 18,019 and Volt's 18,306 unit sales in the affordable EV market. Not only has the Prius Prime outpaced these two impressive EVs, the Prius Prime finished the year with a sales increase of 31%."
Staunch advocates of electric-only models can make the case that reliance on gas stations still leaves the Prius Prime as a half-measure, but the reality is that there are still various use cases in which the available electric vehicles don't quite match their hybrid cousins.
We're moving closer to going all-electric every year, as Toyota itself has acknowledged by accelerating plans to electrify its fleet, but the plug-in hybrid still has a role to play in familiarizing drivers with battery electric technology and introducing them to the public charging ecosystem.
Read more about a significant factor limiting the progress of battery electric vehicles.
The continued success of the Prius Prime PHEV gives Toyota the bridge it needs to transition to all-electric vehicles.
By cutting out the negative advertising towards a technology that the automaker now freely admits it has underestimated, Toyota can reposition the brand.
Rather than sniping at the competition, Toyota can further the company’s legacy as a progressive force in the advancement of electric vehicles and use that status to help its broad base of hybrid drivers to make the move to an all-electric Toyota model in future.
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Do you believe Toyota is committed to developing electric vehicles or are the company's efforts simply half-measures to save face and keep selling hybrids? Whatever your position, let us know what you think in the comments below.
See you in the next story in which I am going to write about why the Rivian R1T isn't the EV truck to convert pickup truck drivers.