Posted by Dale Buss on April 13, 2012 04:05 PM
It's tough going these days for electrified vehicles -- despite rising gas prices. The Chevrolet Volt has had its unique struggles; Nissan Leaf is being "re-contented" to boost the appeal of aspects of the car other than electrification; and a new study by R.L. Polk says that hybrid buyers simply aren't warming up to the technology: hybrid repurchase rates now are flat with three years ago.
But piercing the gloom around hybrids and EVs is one nameplate and one brand: Prius.
Toyota stole a march on hybridization over a decade ago with the original Prius, and finally last year began extending the brand family with vehicles larger (Prius v) and smaller (Prius c) than the original. Those moves -- plus the restoration of "normal" Prius production nowadays compared with the supply constraints of last year -- have greatly enhanced Prius's reign as king of American hybrids.
Biggest evidence right now: Prius c, the $19,000-plus small model aimed at salving the sticker shock normally associated wtih hybrids, is the fastest-selling car in America, according to new data provided by Edmunds.com. It stays on the lots of Toyota dealers only about eight days until a buyer drives it away, the quickest turn rate calculated by Edmunds for March sales. Dealers' inventories of all models are ideally around a 60-day supply.
In February, Prius v was on the list of briskest sellers. And other Toyota hybrid models are benefiting from the updraft provided by the larger fleet of Prius options, making Toyota the first place most American think of when they want a hybrid. The Toyota Camry Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid also made Edmunds' list of the best-selling cars in March.
Meanwhile, Prius provided the lone bright spot for hybrids in Polk's study of buyer-repurchase loyalty. While only 35% of overall hybrid buyers purchased another gas-electric vehicle when trading in during 2011, the highest percentage of hybrid loyalty by far went to Prius. Removing that brand from Polk's calculations gave other hybrids a repurchase rate of under 25%.
All of Prius's success is a credit to the foresight and perseverance of Jim Lentz, a veteran Toyota executive who recently was named its North American chief. He pushed to extend the Prius brand beyond the single model that has been highly popular in the U.S. for a decade.
And now Prius is pushing back -- in the right direction.