Measuring Green Car Success with Toyota Prius

In two days, the first customer takes ownership of the all-electric Nissan LEAF. (We’ll be there front and center to document the event.) There’s no doubt that the imminent rollout of the Nissan LEAF, and the Chevy Volt, is a watershed event. At the same time, green car fans should have realistic expectations about how many of these EVs will hit U.S. roads in 2011. Combined sales of the LEAF and Volt—plus a few purchases and leases of the Fisker Karma, Ford Focus Electric, Coda sedan, Mitsubishi MiEV i, Think City, and Smart ED—might optimistically add up to 50,000 units (aided by very generous government incentives). But what’s in store for this brave new automotive market, and how do we measure success?

The Half-Million Mark

Look no further than the Toyota Prius as the benchmark—especially when viewed from a global perspective. Ten years after hitting the U.S. market, and with zero government incentives for hybrids in place, Toyota sold 125,000 Priuses so far this year. Meanwhile in Japan—where fuel prices are higher and government incentives were in place until September—Toyota sold 297,500 Priuses in the first 11 months of the year. (Keep in mind that the total 2010 auto market in Japan is about 5 million—compared to about 11.5 million sales expected in the U.S. by the end of this year.)

The Prius was, in fact, the No. 1 selling car in Japan in November, marking the 18th successive month on top of the sales chart. The year-to-date Prius sales in Japan, just below 300,000, means the Toyota Prius will break all-time Japanese records for annual sales of an individual model.

Toyota’s domestic market in Japan represents about 60 percent of global Prius sales—and worldwide 2010 sales reached 400,000 Priuses through October (according to Wall Street Journal). If you consider that Toyota plans to expand the Prius to an entire line of vehicles—ranging in size from compact to crossover SUV, and will introduce a plug-in hybrid version with an all-electric range of about 14 miles—then those numbers will likely pass the half-million mark by next year.

The Real Race Begins, At Last

This month, the 50-mpg Prius ceded the fuel efficiency crown to the Chevy Volt (with its EPA combined rating of 60 MPGe) and the Nissan LEAF (with its 99 MPGe). Kudos to General Motors and Nissan for jumping with both feet into the game, and forcing Toyota and others to step up its efforts. Congrats to local and federal politicians for jumpstarting the EV market with incentives.

And yet, in 2011, as global Prius sales exceed a half-million (without incentives), the landmark hybrid is still setting the pace for consumer acceptance—and therefore global environmental impact. (When do you believe that Volt and LEAF will reach 500,000 sales per year?) The race between the leading automakers and the competing alternative efficient technologies only gets more interesting from here.

Correction: We originally overestimated future global Prius. As stated in the Wall Street Journal, global Prius sales were about 400,000 units through October.

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  • Anonymous


    According to the WSJ blog quoted:
    “Prius’ global performance shows a strong 36% jump in sales to 438,270 in the January-October period, according to the latest available data from Toyota. Its domestic sales accounted for a big chunk of 63% of the overall sales in that term “

    Hmm… If I’m not mistaken, what WSJ blog is saying is Global sales ~438K, of which Japanese domestic sales accounted for 63%(438k*0.63=~276k) that matches (roughly) what you said: “Toyota sold 297,500 Priuses in the first 11 months” in Japan.

    So, I don’t see, right now, (as you said) “the model could hit about 840,000 units this year” as the Japanese sales is already counted in the global sales of ~438k (first 10 months of the year).

    Did I miss something from this post? Can the author please clarify. Thanks.

  • Brad Berman, Editor

    @Anonymous: You are correct. We modified the story accordingly.

    The numbers make sense, considering that Toyota expect to sell a total of 1 million hybrids per year in the next year or two–with Prius sales contributing 500k or 600k.

  • Anonymous

    With a base model, Prius will sell more units here in 2011. Actually high MPG of Prius will be challenged by cars like Fiesta, Cruze & Elantra rather than Leaf or Volt.

    But Leaf costs only 25K after incentives and could threaten higher end Prius models. After all 95 % of our trips are less than 100 miles. By the time the government incentives end, someone will learn how to install a generator and let the Leaf run more miles.

    Lets hope that 2011 will see bigger hybrid sales.

  • Anonymous

    Prius and Fit took away much of the Sales in Japan that a famous model like Civic lost all its sales and is being ended.

    Similar thing could happen here in US as well.

  • Dom

    “Look no further than the Toyota Prius as the benchmark—especially when viewed from a global perspective.”

    You’re kidding right? Then you’d better ignore Europe… where hybrids don’t sell all that well considering all the other comparable or better choices they have. That’s what I’ve heard/read anyway.

  • gdk004

    The 50 MPG and above will outsell those below in a few years.

  • Anonymous

    If you’re dreaming about a ‘$25k’ Leaf, it’s about time to check your local building code and contractors about how much it’ll cost you to install a 240V recharging station. (And make sure what you get is flexible enough to fit other BEV and their sucessors as well.)

  • Randy Grenier

    There are other “incentives” to buy Prius including the fact that the 2010 Prius topped J.D. Powers reliability survey for it’s class. Do you really think the Volt and the Leaf will be so reliable first year or two?

  • etcgreen

    Toyota, Nissan and Mazda hybrid assembly lines were shutdown for weeks last month as the result of the rare earth embargo from China. For the past several years, Toyota has monopolized 65% of the world’s total neodymium extraction.

    The projected demand for heavy rare earths is projected to increase by a factor of 35 while the reserves are projected to be depleted within 30 years at current extraction levels.

    There is no future for EV’s or hybrids at large scale production. Why would “environmentalists” perceive square miles of tailing ponds for the extraction and refining of rare earth minerals as any better than square miles of tailing ponds in the Canadian Oil Sands? Why would anyone be willing to sequester 30lbs of rare earth minerals in a car they drive for 30 minutes per day for 6-7 years when the same amount of rare earths in a wind turbine would produce Green Energy for 12-16 hours each day for 30 years. Article: EV’s and Hybrids are not our Future

  • tapra1

    11 months of the year. (Keep in mind that the total 2010 auto market in Japan is about 5 million—compared to about 11.5 million sales expected in the U.S. by the end of this year.)Mobile News