Prius Liftback Sales Lose Ground As Plug-in Prius Prime Excels

If you haven’t noticed, Toyota’s Prius Liftback and its “Prime” plug-in sibling have seen significant changes in their relative popularity.

For this entire decade, Liftback sales dominated all hybrids, plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars so completely that the term “800 pound gorilla” was often invoked, but today, while still ahead, it’s less of the heavyweight.

Meanwhile picking up some of the slack has been its stablemate with a plug. Last month the Prius Prime sold about a quarter the units of the Liftback – 1,908 to 6,064 – something never before heard of as two trends converge.

One trend is the market for regular hybrids has seen decreased sales, and the other is Toyota’s 25-mile EV range Prime is priced so competitively that it makes sense to cross-shop it against the ostensibly down-market Liftback.

2016 Prius Liftback unveiling in Las Vegas. Photo by author.

This state of affairs is relatively new. Just three years ago in 2014, the then-third-generation Prius Liftback enjoyed healthy popularity with 51,760 sales through May on its way to a year-end total of 122,776 sales – triple the next-bestselling Prius c and crushing the plug-in Prius’ 13,264 sales in 2014.

As of May this year, the redesigned generation-four 2016 Liftback is holding down just 27,635 sales.

Meanwhile the updated plug-in Prius – called Prime to denote a range topper – has 8,073 sales in the bag, ranking it second among plug-in hybrids this year behind the Chevy Volt’s 9,187.

The Prime did relatively better than the Volt last month and the month prior as well. In short, the Prime is on the rise and the Liftback is on the decline.

When Toyota redesigned the gen-four Prius Liftback, the automaker heralded it as possessing a sharpened look intended to fit with the Mirai fuel cell vehicle’s image, but many in the court of public opinion disagreed.

While the Prius Liftback is selling strongly in its home market in Japan, U.S. buyers have said they don’t connect with the new design statement in a way that Toyota had hoped for.

Prius PHV Sales: 2012: 12,750 (through May ’12: 3,368 (first year); 2013: 12,088 (through May ’13: 3,630); 2014: 13,264 (through May ’14: 7,729); 2015: 4,191 (production ceased); 2016: 2,474 (Prime partial year).

That plus low gas prices and more PHEV and EV choices have contributed to its fall over the past few years despite improved 52 and 56 mpg from 2016 onward, along with crisper road handling.

Further complicating the value proposition for the Liftback are hybrids including the equally efficient Hyundai Ioniq, competitive Kia Nio, as well as competent midsized hybrid sedans and even Toyota’s own RAV4 Hybrid.

Through May 2012, its best year this decade, the Prius had booked 72,147 sales and that was a year Toyota’s corporate pride was most gratified. Its sales this year through May of 27,635 signals a shift but some of this also may have been Toyota’s own doing.

The former 2012-2015 Prius PHV was never able to muster many sales by comparison because it has the lowest EV range of competitive PHEVs and it was relatively expensive from low-mid 30s to up and over the $40,000 barrier.

With the launch of the 2017 Prime those black eyes have been mended.

Prius Liftback sales: 2010: 140,928 (through May ’10: 55,041); 2011: 136,463 (through May ’11: 62,180); 2012: 147,503 (through May ’12: 72,147); 2013: 145,172 (through May ’13: 62,743 ); 2014: 122,776 (through May 2014: 51,760); 2015: 113,829 (through May ’15: 44,614); 2016: 98,863 (through May ’16: 39,944).

On the pricing front, the Prime starts at $27,985 and goes up to $33,985 for the “Advanced” trim and they are eligible for a larger-than-before $4,500 federal tax credit.

SEE ALSO: Should You Buy A 2017 Toyota Prius Prime?

The Prime’s entry point places it within the range of the Prius Liftback’s $24,360-$30,900 pricing scheme – and the Prime boasts 54 mpg in hybrid mode, straddling the gap between the 52 mpg Liftback trims and the 56 mpg Two Eco.

The Prime also gets subtly different styling which some have said make it look better and in the marketplace it does look better for sure, as evidenced by increased sales.

This is true despite rumors of sparse availability in some markets, a report that Toyota dealers were not receiving or trying to market the car – something Toyota has denied, and all told it’s been the best year ever for the plug-in.

At the rate of things to date, it may even top all plug-in hybrid sales by year’s end, while its Liftback sibling is on track for its worst year of this decade.

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