Toyota’s revolutionary Prius is now in its third-generation, and Toyota has hugely expanded the nameplate reach. With the addition of the Prius V wagon in October 2011, the Prius C six months later, and the Prius Plug-In five months ago, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the regular Prius Liftback struggling.
Instead, Prius sales in Canada are in recovery after a couple years of decline. Toyota Canada is selling more Prius Liftbacks these days than in any year before, save for the peak times of 2008 and 2009.
Don’t be deceived into thinking that the number of Prii you see when watching an LAPD chase on CNN bears any resemblance to what goes on in Canada. To many Canadians, paying for a Prius feels like paying extra for a Prius. So while the Corolla and Matrix account for 2% of the U.S. market and the Prius 1%, in Canada, the Corolla and Matrix control 3.2% of the market and the Prius just 0.2%.
You get the idea. Canadians want fuel efficient cars, but they want the efficient cars to be inexpensive. A basic Prius costs $10,650 more than the basic Corolla in Canada. In the U.S., the difference is just $7970.
The Prius’s pricing structure still doesn’t work to its advantage. Toyota showrooms now include the more spacious Prius V, the less costly Prius C, and the more techy Prius Plug-In. Why are Prius sales rising in the face of adversity? Through January, Prius Liftback sales have risen on a year-over-year basis in eleven consecutive months.
Consider the possibility that competition can breed success. Ever notice how, in many cities, new vehicle dealerships congregate on the same street? Likewise, shopping malls house dozens of competing clothing stores in the same building. Fancy restaurants line up side-by-side in the downtown core.
It may just be that the addition of potential rivals, both in Toyota showrooms and across the street, have led to an increased awareness of the Prius. The marketing dollars Toyota Canada has spent on the introduction of the Prius V and Prius C pays dividends for the Prius nameplate as a whole. Journalists who test drive the very rare Prius Plug-In invariably draw your attention to the vehicle which has donated its architecture.
Indeed, Toyota’s other high-profile hybrid, the aptly named Camry Hybrid, was responsible for nearly one in five Canadian Camry sales in 2012. In fact, the Camry Hybrid outsold the Prius by 67 units and came within 639 units of the Prius V. Without it, the best-selling midsize car in Canada would have trailed the Ford Fusion by 1933 sales. With it, the Camry beat the Fusion lineup by 1505 sales.
Of course, there’s also the possibility that Canadians are warming to the idea of hybrid technology. While you won’t see green leafy badges or italicized hybrid logos on the backs of many cars yet, automakers are working at making these cars a more common sight.
Nevertheless, hybrid versions of the Hyundai Sonata, Kia Optima, Ford Fusion, Honda Civic, and Acura ILX – not to mention numerous luxury hybrids and hybrid crossovers - haven’t dulled the Prius’s ability to attract buyers. And while we can look down on the car’s low-volume positioning in Canada, where it wasn’t even one of 2012’s 100-best-selling vehicles, U.S. sales of the original Prius variant increased in 2012 as well. With 147,507 U.S. sales in 2012, Toyota posted its best Prius total since 2008.