Top EV Story Of 2018: How Tesla Killed The Conventional Toyota Prius
It’s the end of the hybrid era.
Toyota might be regretting the sweetheart deal it gave Tesla for its plant in Fremont, Calif. in 2010. Nearly a decade later, the all-electric cars produced by Tesla in Fremont make conventional gas-electric hybrids look as timely as iPods and Blu-ray disks. The Toyota Prius Liftback – once the darling of eco-oriented techies – is the biggest victim.
This year will mark a definitive decade-long trend of declining Prius sales in the United States. There was a blip-like uptick to 147,516 sales of the Prius Liftback in 2012. But the downward trend has been steady since then – to a tepid 50,000 or so units expected by the end of 2018.
Meanwhile, to Toyota’s credit, the Prius Prime plug-in version became the second highest seller among EVs and PHEVs in 2018. The shift in momentum from the no-plug Prius to the Prime is incontrovertible. In 2017, Toyota sold more than 3.3 times as many conventional Priuses as the plug-in versions. But this year, the ratio dropped below a factor of 1.9.
Tesla showed that it is economical and safe to use a big battery. That makes the conventional Prius’s use of a minuscule 0.75-kWh battery pack look sad. The pipsqueak battery indeed assists efficiency to yield a city/highway efficiency of 52 miles per gallon.
Meanwhile, the Prius Prime’s battery is 8.8 kilowatt-hours – still small by EV standards – is enough to provide an official all-electric range of 25 miles. It has an E.P.A. efficiency rating of 133 MPGe. When you consider the $4,502 federal tax credit for the plug-in Prius, its net price drops below $23,000. That’s less than the base price of the no-plug Prius. No wonder the Prime is catching up to the conventional Prius Liftback, even though the plug-in variant seats only four passengers.
A Time for Praise
There are signs that Toyota sees the writing on the wall. The Japanese automaker has plans to transplant the Prius powertrain to the ultra-popular Corolla and recently introducing an all-wheel-drive version of the Prius. But maybe the Prius jumped the shark this week when the company announced that its in-house tuning division, Toyota Racing Development, is trying to spice up the dowdy hybrid with a sporty body kit.
Even if these steps help revitalize some Prius sales, I think it’s time to say that the Prius’s time is up. Of course, it’s too easy to pile on with criticism against Toyota for not making the shift to battery-electric vehicles. Go for it, if you like.
Or we could praise the quintessential hybrid as a critically important vehicle in automotive history. More than 4 million Priuses have been sold globally. It was the gateway to the new EV era – evidenced by how the Prius is one of the most popular models traded in for the Tesla Model 3.