Toyota’s Prius is proving that so-called “green” cars may not be the antithesis of “mainstream” after all. The little hybrid that could hit the market as a niche model 15 years ago. Now, at the end of the first quarter of 2012, it has become the third largest selling vehicle in the world.
Sales more than doubled
Since its launch, the Prius has become a “family” of four vehicles, including a hatchback, a wagon, a plug-in and the Aqua subcompact, known in the U.S. as the Prius C. Meanwhile, Japanese tax incentives, saving buyers in the the Asian nation the equivalent of $2,500 or more per car, have also boosted world sales.
Led only by its own Corolla and Ford’s Focus, Toyota sold 247,230 Prius models in the first three months of 2012. That is more than double its performance in the previous quarter. The Corolla was bought 300,800 times in that same period. Ford, meanwhile, sold 277,000 Focus units during the quarter.
Not a ‘fluke’
Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab in Orange, Calif., said:
“It proves Prius wasn’t a fluke, that there’s a long-term market for hybrids.”
Prius C on fire in Japan
The Aqua, or Prius C, is on fire in Japan, where it has led sales of the Prius line. In its native land, Prius sales have gone up more than three times in the last quarter, from 52,507 to 175,800. However, Bloomberg reports that the funds for the Japanese Prius buyer tax incentives may run out if the nation does not move to extend them in July.
‘Turning the corner’
Prius sales beat out such high-volume models as Hyundai’s Elantra, Volkswagen’s Golf, Ford’s Fiesta, General Motor’s Cruze and Honda’s Civic for the quarter. Akio Toyoda, grandson of the automaker’s founder and CEO of the company, said that Toyota is “turning the corner” following major setbacks, including natural disasters and massive recalls in the U.S. over unintended acceleration issues.
Other industry analysts agree. Efraim Levy, an equity analyst with Standard & Poor’s, said:
“You are seeing a company that is clearly coming back. For Prius to sell in that kind of volume, something that’s been a niche product, it’s an achievement.”
Hybrid and EV acceptance
Perhaps the worldwide embrace of the Prius will bode well for the sales of other lower and zero-emission vehicles such as the Nissan Volt, the Chevrolet Leaf, the Ford Escape and the Honda Insight. Many nations around the world, including the U.S., are mandating more fuel efficient, less-polluting standards for vehicles in coming years.