Toyota Prius withers on the vine as EV strategy questions linger
Toyota is debuting updated versions of the Toyota Prius hybrid car at the L.A. Auto Show amid growing speculation that the automaker — long vaunted for its sustainable vehicles — is falling behind on EVs.
Why it matters: Toyota is the world's largest automaker and one of the most efficient companies on the planet. When it takes a step, the ground rumbles.
Zoom in: Toyota has only one pure EV — and it's not doing well so far — after long insisting that hydrogen technology and hybrids like the Prius were the way to go.
- Fellow traditional automakers like General Motors, Ford, Volkswagen, Hyundai and Kia are betting the farm on battery-only EVs that don't use a drop of gas.
- Toyota, on the other hand, has only the bZ4X in that category — and it recently had to temporarily stop sales of the compact SUV due to a wheel defect.
The intrigue: For years the gas-sipping Prius held the undisputed crown as the hybrid car titan, with sales topping out at 236,655 in 2012, when the model represented nearly 1 in 7 of Toyota's sales.
- At one point, there were several versions of the hybrid, including a smaller model called the Prius C and a larger one called the Prius V. Both of those are gone.
- Through the first 10 months of 2022, Prius sales totaled only 29,944, representing less than 1 in 50 Toyota sales.
What they're saying: The automaker has done well with sales of other hybrids — such as the RAV4 SUV — but it's missing a big opportunity to get consumers to transition from the Prius to pure EVs, Edmunds analyst Ivan Drury tells Axios.
- "It was like a gateway drug for a full EV — but there’s nothing in the lineup. They left a gaping hole there," Drury says. "They were in the driver seat for electrification, but they made a wrong turn."
The other side: Toyota says about half of its spending from 2022 through 2030 will be devoted to battery electric vehicles (BEVs), including plans to build a new $3.8 billion battery plant in North Carolina opening in 2025.
- "We aim to offer reasonably priced mass-production BEV models in all global segments," Toyota spokesman Scott Vazin said in an email, adding that the company is targeting a zero-emissions future.
- Part of that strategy involves a big investment in plug-in hybrids like the Prius Prime, which advocates argue are more practical than EVs because they can run on gas after the battery has run out.
Keep in mind: One reason the Prius has fallen out of favor is that it's a passenger car — and consumers have become more interested in SUVs and pickups, both of which Toyota is selling in droves.
Our thought bubble: Never underestimate Toyota. There's such a thing as being too early — so Toyota might be right on time to this party.
- Plus, this is a company that devastated its American competition for years — and it has the engineering prowess and financial wherewithal to reinvent itself quickly.
The bottom line: "I would never count them out because they do make fantastic vehicles," Drury says. "There’s good reason for that. They’ve earned that reputation."