What is Driving the Plug-In Prius Sales

MAY 6 2012 BY MARC LEE 10

The sales numbers for the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-in Hatchback (PIP) have been very strong, besting the Volts 1462 units in April with 1654 PIPs sold. I must admit I find myself surprised because the PIP offers substantially less electric range, but clearly buyers are finding the value and features of the PIP compelling.

According to Edmund’s the 2012 Prius PHEV Advance has a True Market Value of $40,285 less the $2500 tax credit, gives us a price of $37,785.

A similarly equipped Volt rings up at $43,045 less $7500 credit gives $35,545

There is a base model Prius comes in at $32,760 less the credit puts the base model just over $30,000.  If the Leaf is any lesson, people will pony up the bucks and go for the Advanced PIP.  However, Toyota has stated that they expect 70% of buyers to go for the base model PIP.  What is driving buyers to the PIP?  Here is a round up of typical comments from the Prius Chat forums and elsewhere:

The Prius is a 3rd gen vehicle, the Volt is new tech.

The value of this to buyers cannot be overestimated.  A car is a big investment, most people like safe bets when it comes to a car.  Although the PIP is quite new, it is substantially based on time proven technology.  Many feel it risky to make a bet on the unproven Volt and Leaf technology. This was an argument I heard in my own house, from the wife. It is a good point.

Toyota  owns the hybrid market, and is capitalizing on their reputation in this segment.  Even car makers who think the EV movement is premature are nonetheless building plug-in  prototypes and fielding test fleets because no one wants to concede on EVs the way hybrids have been so far conceded to Toyota

Seating for 5

If you need that, the Volt’s four seats are a deal breaker.  And on top of that the Prius rear seat leg room is legendary for good reason.


Getting into and out of the Prius is easier than the Volt. No debate there. Not a big deal for me, but I have noted others struggle with the Volt’s access. One poster commented that he had to get into the Volt head first.  Awkward to say the least.  Related to this is the greater head room afforded in the Prius.

Better MPG On Gas

Many of the comments seem to cherry pick best cases scenarios for which ever car they prefer.   The reality is if you are the kind of driver that can get 50mpg out of a Prius, then you can get 40mpg out of the Volt.  Still that is a 10 mpg advantage to the Prius.

Operating Costs?

Some posts on www.gm-volt.com have suggested that between 16-65 miles of daily driving the Volt is more efficient.  Less than 16 or more than 65 tips the scale to the PIP. This is based on charging once per day.  Other posts have suggested the daily break even range for the PIP vs Volt is in the triple digits.

There are so many assumptions and variables to be considered that it appears one must sit down with specific commuting/driving patterns to figure out costs.

Figuring all of this out does require an affinity for spreadsheets that most would find troubling. Certainly some are throwing up their hands trying to figure it out and who can blame them, even the EPA seems flummoxed by it all. The EPA label shows $1000 annual fuel costs for the Volt and the PIP.  This does not appear to be correct.

File:2012 Chevrolet Volt EPA window sticker 0483.jpg

Volt EPA Label


For the Volt. 15000 miles divided by 365 equals 41 miles/day. 41 miles is quite doable on electric only.  The cost of that 41 miles is 12kw x 0.12 cent/kwh or $1.44 per day. $1.44 x 365 is $525 annual fuel costs for the Volt.

For the PIP. Assuming 3.5kwh to do 12 miles gives 42 cents for electricity. And then 7.5 cents/mile x 29 miles for the gas portion is $2.17. $2.59/day x 365 is $947 annual fuel costs for the PIP.

But those numbers are only for one scenario.  15,000 miles per year, or about 41 miles per day.  Different scenarios will give different numbers.  Typically above a certain threshold the PIP becomes cheaper to operate because of its ability to burn gas more efficiently.

For those who are deciding between the Volt and the PIP the best advice is to do an extended test drive of  both vehicles.  Extended as in several days to a week.  For a serious buyer many dealers will accommodate this, as they should on such radically new technology.  Often a buyer will figure out which car they really prefer from this experience, costs be damned.

If you could live with either and it comes down to costs or you are motivated by trying to maximize electric range for the best value, then you are going to need to sit down with commuting patterns and run the numbers.  There are legions of cost calculators.  Some will no doubt have the numbers for both cars incoporated.

Also, to get an accurate fix on your driving patterns, there are GPS like devices you can use to track your usage and help you decide suitability for any particular plug-in.

Finally keep in mind that even though Edmund’s and other sites prices are a good indicator, pricing is a fluid situation, and the particular deal you will be able to work out at any give time varies greatly from place to place.  If you find you could live with either car you could consider pitting Toyota dealer against Chevy dealer and seeing who can offer you the best deal.



Categories: Chevrolet, Toyota


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10 Comments on "What is Driving the Plug-In Prius Sales"

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The PIP is a great car no doubt but you can’t drive in all electric mode at highway speeds or when you hit the pedal aggressively like you can in the Volt…


Yup, each car has its pros and cons, frankly if someone could combine the pros of each, well they would really have something then.

My wife’s had a Volt for 6 months now; I’ve had a Prius for 3 1/2 years. The Volt’s more fun to drive; Prius gets better mpg on long trips (over 50). I do have a few pet peeves about the Volt. 1. The front-console arm rest and cup holders are terribly placed. A tall cup leaves you with no place for your elbow. 2. Why no passenger grab handle? 3. Why no rear window washer/wiper? 4. The reverse warning beeps drive us nuts, beeping at curbs and the like, and they don’t come on when you’re approaching an obstacle at the front of the car unless you’ve shifted into reverse first. 5. After 6 months, we still don’t understand how best to navigate the center console info screen. And the touch commands are a pain to use — you’ve got to take your eyes off the road for nearly all of them, and on bumpy roads it’s too easy to hit the wrong button. 6. Several times we’ve had a hard time getting the heater to come on. The guy at Chevy says turn it up to its maximum heat, then adjust back down. I can’t say yet whether… Read more »

Going to take a while and likely longer than Volt Gen II before the battery size comes down that much, unless they go for a lower capacity battery like in the Prius Plug-in, which is doubtful. More likely to drop the ICE once current battery size reduces, then use that space to increase the battery size again with more capacity, or range if you like.

Quote: “I just bought my PIP and I am enjoying it for the most part, especially the electronics. What I’m trying to figure out is whether it’s worth charging it versus just using it as a hybrid. 1. I should say that the primary reason I bought it was to get a green HOV sticker here in California. ”

Scott thanks for sharing that link, I saw that and thought. OK, why buy a PIP if you aren’t sure you even want to charge it? Some interesting bits from that discussion:

“using about 2.97 kw/hrs per charge at home on 120v.” If that is accurate looks like Toyota is using about 75% of the battery capacity

“I’m about to reach my 1000 miles on a tank goal…oh….so….close….”
Would it be wrong of me to point out that I’ve done 14,300 miles on one tank of gas in the Volt?

“just a few more EV trips to the liquor store……”

It is funny because it is true. When you have a plug-in you find excuses to take the thing out for spin. Hopefully this urge tapers after a while.

Ziv picked up on what I was trying to point out. Looks like it was July 1, 2011 that the normal Prius lost access to the CA HOV lanes. I did a google search on: toyota prius loses hov lane

Many articles but there was one that mentioned the Plug-In Prius:

Check out out the last four paragraphs for comments like: “When the H.O.V. access for California hybrids went away, it left thousands of drivers very frustrated, because their commute times had doubled or tripled. The ability to use H.O.V. lanes is a very good marketing tool for Toyota.”

I have followed the Volt for years, but it comes down to price. I can’t rationalize a $32.5k car for me. No matter how efficient, how it uses American electricity instead of gas that is half imported, I just can’t put that much money in one car.
I have driven several Volts and two Prius and they are night and day. The Volt is sporty and high tech, it drives more like my 350Z (albeit with less power) than like the Prius. But the Prius is an efficiency marvel, to be able to get a 5 passenger car 500 miles on 10 gallons of gas? That is amazing!
But if GM can get the Volt MSRP below $37.5k, that may be the psychological distance that will allow me, and thousands of drivers like me, to rationalize purchasing the Volt. $29.9k is not that much more than the $23k I spent on my RAV4.
But I think Scott nailed a large aspect of it regarding PIP sales. HOV stickers rule the roost in CA.

Don’t miss a trick do I. Next time you’ll have to draw me a diagram with pictures and labels. 🙂 OK, so the theory is that some are buying the PIP to cash in on that magical green sticker for HOV access. Obviously if someone has bought a PIP and is asking “should I even bother to plug it in” we have a strong indication of someone who has bought the car for HOV access, and given what I hear about traffic in CA can’t say I blame anyone.

In that instance, having a base model with a low price may be key, and voila a base model PIP that is $8k less.

Seems like I read something about plug-in hybrids being limited in the number that could apply, but battery only vehicles being unlimited.

Volt and PiP Race For Green… Stickers | Inside EVs

[…] In this post about what is driving sales of the PiP,  commenter “ScottF200″ asserts that single occupant access to HOV lanes is quite likely a leading reason for strong PiP sales in California. Pointing to this quote from the PriusChat forums: I just bought my PIP and I am enjoying it for the most part, especially the electronics. What I’m trying to figure out is whether it’s worth charging it versus just using it as a hybrid. 1. I should say that the primary reason I bought it was to get a green HOV sticker here in California. […]