Everything's coming up roses for Prius these days, just like those cartoon flowers on one of its TV commercials a few years ago.
Now that Toyota is able to supply enough of the nameplate to meet global demand, and it has broadened the Prius "family" to include four models, the leading —actually, only — recognizable brand name in hybrids is taking the whole world by storm. During the first quarter, its worldwide sales soared to more tahn 247,000 units, trailing only Toyota's Corolla, at nearly 301,000, and Ford's Focus, at 277,000, in sales.
On Friday, Toyota is likely to report yet another robust month of sales in the United States, where consumers have been purchasing the original Prius at unprecedented rates and also have taken kindly to the new Prius c, a smaller and less expensive hybrid, and the larger Prius v, last week featured on ABC's Modern Family.
The success of Prius is more proof of Toyota's foresight and competence in its industry than of any kind of broad surge in global demand for hybrids, which has yet to materialize. "It proves Prius wasn't a fluke, that there's a long-term market for hybrids," Eric Noble, a car-industry consultant, told Bloomberg.
Toyota gained hugely by making Prius the first hybrid brand with broad exposure to global consumers a decade ago and has built on that early success even as few other auto brands have been able to make their hybrids catch fire.
Actually, Toyota was experiencing a strong rise in demand for Prius in early 2011 and wasn't able to meet it. Then the earthquake and tsunami hit in March 2011, pushing Prius output even further behind demand.
By broadening its product lineup, Toyota managed to dilute demand for the original Prius and also divert many would-be buyers to one of its new versions. Prius really is a "family" of vehicles more than just about any other nameplate on the road.
And while American buyers have particularly been proving their growing fondness for Prius, other national markets have been contributing as well. In Japan, for example, huge rebates and tax breaks are saving Prius buyers the equivalent of $2,500 or more.
For Prius, the next step may well be addressing the cost differential between its original and main vehicle, and convenetionally powered competitors. For now, government tax breaks — such as the $7,500 credit in the U.S. for purchase of a hybrid — greatly bolster Prius's price-competitiveness. But if those subsidies should ever disappear for any reason, political or economic, Toyota wants to move Prius into position to be a self-sustaining proposition for the long haul.