The Return of the Prius Waiting List

Despite the current mad rush for fuel-efficient vehicles, sales of the most popular hybrid car, the Toyota Prius, are unlikely to mushroom this year. In fact, most dealers in Toyota’s western region—encompassing California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada and Arizona—are out of stock. Customers should expect long waiting lists for the Prius, and in some cases, big dealer premiums, for the rest of 2008.

“Unless Toyota sends a lot more cars, we’re going to see Prius wait lists spin out again to about six months,” said Toby Parks, sales manager at Toyota of Berkeley, Calif., in an interview with HybridCars.com.

As recently as four weeks ago, Toyota of Berkeley had 60 Priuses on the lot and ready to sell. “We were offering $2,500 off on fully loaded Prius packages and the rest were selling for right around invoice.” Parks was even selling Priuses to customers from out of state that were unable to find the vehicle—which is rated at 48 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway.

Then, two things happened at almost the same time. First, gas prices soared well above $4 a gallon. Next, according to an inside company source, Toyota dramatically reduced production of the Prius sedan when it began retooling its production line for the 2009 model year. The new model is expected to be slightly bigger, faster and more efficient than the current version. In addition, company sources confirmed that Toyota is preparing to offer a wagon version of the Prius in either 2009 or 2010.

The crunch between high demand and diminishing supply is leaving Toyota dealerships in Northern California—one of the most popular regions for hybrid cars—with a current allocation of only about 400 Priuses to share among 65 stores. That equates to an average of approximately five Priuses per dealership per month.

Parks said, “If things don’t change, the current wait of 6 to 8 weeks will continue to grow. I would not be surprised to see buyers waiting as long as five to six month waiting list soon,” HybridCars.com’s “Price Pulse,” which allows hybrid buyers to report and track waiting lists across the country, shows a waiting period of 13 weeks in Fayetteville, Ark., 5 weeks in Germantown, Tenn., and 4 weeks in Newport News, Virginia. These waiting durations were common for much of 2005 and 2006, but subsided in 2007, when Toyota ramped up production and gas prices were relatively low.

Dealerships are responding to the shortage of Priuses with different strategies. Some wait for Priuses to arrive on the lot and then offer the vehicles on a first come, first serve basis to walk-in customers. This is typically when dealerships charge big premiums. Others dealers ask sales staff to keep individual lists of interested buyers, and begin making calls from that list as soon as vehicles arrive. These dealers are also prone to applying extra charges.

Finally, a number of dealerships use a chronological inventory management system with up-front deposits. In this way, the sales person can tell the customer more precisely when the Prius will arrive with specific information about the car including colors and option preferences. “Babysitting the order is a pain. And there’s lots of customer interaction,” said Parks. “But it’s the only equitable way to make the sale when the market heats up like this.”


  • Dom

    Back in 2005-06 many (smart?) people said screw to the waiting list and went and bought a Honda Civic hybrid or VW Jetta TDI instead, which usually had no waiting lists. I wonder if that will be happening again. I.E. Prius waiting lists are good for the competition. And the competition is getting broader and more diverse – Nissan now has a hybrid, VW will be back with the Jetta TDI this summer, and more hybrids, diesels, other such efficient vehicles are on the radar from a bunch of different automakers.

  • homerj1965

    I waited 8 weeks back in 06 for my Prius.

  • davenycsolar

    My sister and my parents both bought Priuses. My sister waited about 2-3 weeks in Hawaii back in Dec 2006. My parents in NYC waited 2-3 months from Oct to Dec 2006. Both were happy they did. But now that they came out with the dark blue ones, we’re jealous.

  • Lans

    I personally like the Honda Civic Hybrid more than the Toyota Prius so I wouldn’t wait for a Prius. The Prius does get much better mileage in the city but I am happy getting over 48 MPG combined over 3000 miles.

    The VW Jetta TDI looks like it might have a harder time selling with diesel prices so high.

  • Jeff

    I know supply and demand economics says that when a commodity becomes scarce its price should rise but when dealers tell you to your face that they will be charging you a $2,000 premium to order a car for you it is hard not to get mad. This is what I ran into a year ago when I bought mine. If a customer is willing to pay the full invoice price for a Prius to be delivered in 2 or 3 months a dealer is just spitting in your face when they want to gouge you for taking your order. If the price really needs to go up let Toyota raise the price on the invoice so you know up front what they want for the car. I just hate having to take a shower after dealing with a car salesman or woman.

  • GR

    Hopefully Toyota and other hybrid makers will catch up to demand. If they can, hybrid numbers could easily double from past months with gas prices shooting up.

  • Hal Howell

    Glad I bought mine last year (May 2007). I was able to get a decent price for the options I wanted and haven’t regretted the purchase. Especially, now!

  • mdensch

    I just did some math.

    Now, you can buy a nice economical car like a Yaris or a Honda Fit for about $10,000 less than a Prius and according to the EPA those cars would cost something like $500 more per year for gas. Using those numbers, it would take you 20 years to break even on the difference in price.

    Granted, if gas prices go higher (and they will) the pay back time would be shorter, but it would still be longer than the first owner would probably keep the car.

  • jman

    Yeah, except with a prius you’re not using the internal combustion engine 100% of the time, so it’ll probably last a lot longer. Also, a prius is going to hold it’s resale value much better than a yaris or a fit.

  • mdensch

    Then consider the possibility that you will have to replace the battery system sometime between year 10 and year 20 — that would about wipe out the difference in resale value.

  • steved28

    mdensch, you should NOT get a hybrid. And you should argue against anyone else who wants to buy one. We need people like you so the rest of us don’t have to get on a waiting list.

  • Alden Bowles

    The Prius NiMH battery pack is warranted for a minimum of 8 yrs 100,000 miles and is estimated by Toyota to not only retain 90% of charge capacity for 180,000 miles minimum, but to last the life of the car. Find me ONE instance of non-accident related battery pack replacement for the Prius 04-08 model and maybe I’ll be concerned about replacement costs. Come up with some facts about costs so a REAL comparison can be made. Current costs are in the $1500 range new and less for used. Besides, name one make of car that won’t need a major repair of some kind between years 10 and 20. Spare us all the dramatic, unfounded speculation

    BTW – I own a Prius and a Yaris and both are fine for what they are advertised for. I get 55+ mpg in my Prius (70k miles) by driving 60 mph or the speed limit, whichever is less, airing up tires, accelerating and decelerating moderately, and not driving like a maniac in the city (no light to light jack rabbit stops and starts). Every receipt recorded and calculated for 2.5 years. No guessing or car computer estimates. Just facts.

  • mdensch

    steved28: Too late man, I already own a hybrid.
    ••
    Alden: Whoa, slow down, cowboy. My original point was that for the approx. $10,000 more that a buyer will now pay for a Prius versus a car like a Honda Fit or Toyota Yaris, will only net you about a $500 savings per year in gas costs, according to figures from EPA. That would mean a 20 year pay back for the additional investment, a time frame that is probably longer than the service life of the car, certainly longer than a typical first owner will keep the car.

    Someone then suggested that a hybrid’s engine will last longer because it is running somewhat less than in a regular car and that the additional resale value will probably offset the higher up-front cost. I merely suggested that you probably couldn’t keep a hybrid for 20 years without having to replace the batteries at some point. Hardly the stuff of wild speculation.

    BTW, an auto warranty claims adjuster told me that Honda Insights have an unusually high rate of failure of their electrical controllers — about a $1400 replacement item. No speculation, just fact.

  • Alden Bowles

    You can cherry pick bad car models like the Insight all you want but the 10-20 years down the road is not the issue for most people is it? I don’t believe it is. That’s my point about specualtion. Besides I didn’t bring up the Insight. You did. Stick to something that at least I know about. That would be the Prius

    The problem with the entire payback view is that it is being selectively applied. When hybrids came out the argument about payback was used to slam them. That doesn’t seem to have gone away, just shifted. If it was all just about the money, wouldn’t we all buy homes near work so we could walk or ride a bicycle? The Fit, Yaris, Civic, Corolla, Focus, Aveo, etc are all small cars that get good mileage. I think its great. Do I want the manufacturers to build a low end hybrid. Absolutely. Am I ready to spend less than 30K for a PHEV with the features of the Prius. Yes.

    That’s the only thing missing in the current arguments. All of the cheap ICE cars are great, especially if initial cost is an issue for the buyer. Definitely a good decision.

    Now for some real speculation. When the new round of hybrid releases come out in 2009-2011 30 mpg average will seem really bad in comparison and the values of the ICE cars – not matter what they cost – will drop more than the older hybrids.

  • Jeff

    I think Mr. Alden Bowles needs to relax a bit.

    No, I don’t think the Insight is necessarily a great example to bring up. Heck, I Honda salesman told me that the Insight was a huge loss for Honda, that they lost money on every one of them, and basically said they were a joke. That was a Honda salesman.

    I think it is fair to say that the Insight is not in the league with the Prius.

    That said, I have loved the Prius since I first checked out one in 2001, but that isn’t to say that “mdensch” doesn’t make some valid points to consider.

    Let’s not be like the Apple/Macintosh fanatics that get irate if a Windows user says something critical or negative about Apple/Mac products.

    I think the Prius is great, but I can certainly see why someone might consider a Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, etc. and I don’t think they are nuts for doing it. I understand the reasoning.

  • Need2Change

    Toyota appears to be creating a shortage and waiting list.

    In April, Toyota sold 21,700 Priuses in the U.S. In May, Toyota sold 15,100. The May total was also less than in May 2007 when Priuses weren’t selling that well.

    Now Toyota has a waiting list and most buyers will pay above list price. I bet June availability will improve, but not enough to get rid of the waiting list.

    This reminds me of the 1980′s when many Japanese cars sold at above list price.

  • hybridluv

    Toyota also rents their cars though their dealerships and a couple months ago, it was really easy to get any of their hybrids. Now availability stinks…

  • B. M. Hammel

    Hybrids are nice to have, but lets get serious. The extra expense for the Prius doesn’t justify buying one. I see people posting messages about 10-20 years in the future. The average person keeps their auto 3-5 yrs and the way technology has been changing, 5 years from now you will probably be able to buy an auto that gets 100 mpg. So lets not get caught up with 10-20 yrs in the future. Buy a FIT or Corolla until the market become more competitve and hybrid technology advances. How about wait until next year when HONDA unveils its hybrid. The Prius price is sure to drop.

  • Jeff

    Why do people keep comparing the fuel mileage of teensy little econboxes like a Yaris to the mileage of a Prius? The Prius is a comfortable, roomy car similar to a Camry or Taurus in room and luggage, etc. The Prius is more like the type of car that’s been most popular for decades. That’s the kind of car to compare it to. The Prius allows people to buy a car they’d like and use, and still get great mileage. That’s the beauty of it. You’re not forced to ride a motorcycle or a box-on-a-rollerskate car to get good mileage.
    One man’s opinion……

  • mdensch

    Whew, at least somebody gets it.

    Bottom line here: Consumers are creating a buying frenzy in the hybrid market because of high gasoline prices without examining the total cost of ownership. If total cost of ownership (over the 5 to 10 years that a typical new car buyer will keep a car) is the over-riding consideration, and you are strictly looking at the numbers, you would end up with an inexpensive sub-compact rather than a hybrid.

    Look, I own a hybrid, too, and the thing is I can afford to spend more to buy one but I can also afford $4+ per gallon gasoline. This isn’t true of everyone.

  • Paul Rivers

    “…and you are strictly looking at the numbers, you would end up with an inexpensive sub-compact rather than a hybrid”

    “Look, I own a hybrid, too, and the thing is I can afford to spend more to buy one but I can also afford $4+ per gallon gasoline. This isn’t true of everyone.”

    I totally agree with your last point – I also have friends with much less money than myself, and while I could painfully afford to buy a Prius or something, they simply cannot afford to at all. Like you said – I can afford a Prius, so I can also afford $4/gallon gas. The price between a Prius and, say, a fully optioned out Corolla might be made up by the mileage difference, but the price between a Prius and base model Corolla, or, most realistically, a used 10 year old Honda Civic would never be recouped through fuel savings. And these are people who would really love to tell other people that they drive a hybrid. But because of the economics, they just can’t.

    However, I do take a little issue with comparing the cost of a subcompact like the Yaris to the Prius because most people would never even consider buying a subcompact because it’s just to small. It’s more of a Corolla vs Prius or even Camry vs Prius debate.

    The only thing you’re saving by buying a subcompact is some money up front. Not only are you more likely to die if you get into a car accident, they don’t even get better mileage than the “small” cars like the civic and corolla:
    http://www.iihs.org/news/rss/pr121906.html

  • ChloeM

    Too much testosterone here. This cost and that cost… Is anyone factoring in the enjoyment cost? I see this as an opportunity to own a car that will give me peace of mind in helping the environment while being reminded of Disneyland as it hums along quietly on city streets. I went through a lot to attend my college of choice, but each day I arrived on campus and looked around at the brick bldgs and ivy, I took a deep breath and knew it was all worthwhile. I’m one of the so called “suckers” on the waitlist now -but I’ll also be one happy person on the road as I hum along to work every single day. Is it expensive? That all depends on each individual as we each determine where we’d like to spend our money. Even a miser has his weakness. Some choose to spend on food, travel, etc., so please stop preaching to those who choose to buy a Prius. Bottom line, get it if you can. Buy a Corolla if it doesn’t fit into your budget now and be happy with what you can afford. If you can afford to buy a new car, life is good=:) If I only looked at numbers, I’d be too bogged down to enjoy life. Being smart and being wise are not always the same. Peace be with you!

  • Need2Change

    I keep wearing out my calculator justifying the purchase of a hybrid, but it won’t give me the right numbers.

    I have three cars that get 22-25 mpg around town and about 27-28 mpg on the highway (Chrysler 300M, Nissan Maxima GLE, and Eagle Vision TSI). All are loaded (leather, highend audio, etc.) and two have navigation. All three are very comfortable and have 0-60 times of about 8.0 seconds. Two are paid and one will be paid shortly.

    So I can buy an econobox without leather, decent stereo, decent seats, space, ride, engine power, or navigation for $350/month and save $100/month in gas. Or I can buy a loaded Prius for $30K (about $600/month), have a 10.5 second 0-60 time, and save $200/month in gas.

    The calculator keeps telling me to keep what I got.

  • Patrick Leonard

    With the Euro worth 1.58 Dollars, Toyota obviously prefer to sell a Prius in Europe at 23000 Euro instead of in the US at 23000 Dollars. They gain 13340 $ more in Europe, son who would you leave waiting? Just be patient, I waited five months to get my Prius back in 2004.

  • mdensch

    Moving away from the discussion about costs and paybacks, what about the inadequate supply of hybrids on the market?

    I keep hearing that the supply of batteries is the limiting factor, which I’m sure is true. But I’m also hearing that a battery developer/supplier which own the licensing rights is pinching the supply, presumably to keep the prices high.

    Anyone have confirmed information about this?

  • SoloSoldier

    I love my fellow Hybrid/High MPG bloggers… we’re are what makes the world go ’round…. Continue on!!

  • SoloSoldier

    If those are such deals, then why would you come here? Are you researching? I hope so! All of your cars are paid for and that is great!! Good for you!! You fully own gas-guzzling, environmentally unsound vehicles, you should be proud of yourself. Owning a hybrid until recently was not about saving gas. It was about helping the environment. Instead of looking at the MPGs, look at how much polluntants your 3 cars put in the air and how many barrels of oil they use yearly and then compare them to a Prius or a Civic Hybrid. Until then, your “money-saving” is just about money, not about anything else. So while you’re going 0-to-60 in 5 seconds, be sure to breath in the exhaust that your 3 cars are spouting, maybe that will help you look beyond your pocket.

  • SoloSoldier

    The comment above was for Need2Change… because he definitely “needs to change” his perspective.

  • Tammy

    Every now and then I see or hear the comment that it is not worth the price to buy the Prius or a hybrid. I was driving a Nissan Xterra the last 6 years which was paid off for over a year. I was able to buy my new Prius in early March 2008 and luckily was ahead of the whole waiting list thing. Even with my payment on my brand new vehicle combined with the gas I put in for driving an average of 1100 miles per month, I am SAVING money when compared to just putting gas in my Xterra! My girlfriend bought a Corolla, other friend bought the Camry Hybrid, father has had the Nissan Altima Hybrid for over a year now and I am getting far better gas mileage than any of them and LOVE the vehicle! My father wants to sell his Altima and get the Prius now! Could I have bought a “cheaper” model, sure, but instead I got a vehicle I love that in my eyes was well worth the pricetag–as gas continues to go up, I continue to drive right by the gas stations!

  • Elena

    Agree to all those that posted comments to look beyond your calculators. I will be getting on a list on Monday 6/16/08. I live in North NJ and the lists is not 4-6 month long. North NJ dealerships still have the invoice prices and nothing above that.

  • mickoz

    I am so lucky to have bought my Prius in southern california in March before the shortage, and before gas really got out of control. I owned outright a 2003 Infiniti FX 45 which I was filling up every 2 1/2 days. “gas guzzlers” were not getting dinged so much, and it was low mileage, so I got a $22,000 trade in, bought my Prius option 5 for 28,000 including taxes and fees, so only had to come out of pocket $6,000. I am fortunate enough to be able to afford it, and it was actually much cheaper than my other cars had been (I had just finished a lease on a BMW 7), so not only did I get a much more inexpensive car than I usually purchase, I get great mileage, and doing something good for the eart. I am so happy driving it. It is roomy enough for my 3 kids in the back. I don’t need the whole “status luxury car” thing anymore, and I only have to fill it up once a week.

    The gas mileage just can’t compare to any other subcompact if you can afford it. I love silently zipping around!

  • HawkPidgeon

    Haha, I’m glad we got our Prius when we did. I absolutely love that thing (it’s a 2008 model). We got it… in September of ’07 I think. Wonderful car. We consistently get 50+ mpg on it. It’s just a really nice car.

  • June Hooper

    I was very happy with my Toyota Camry and swore I would never get anything else. Well my hubby took my car for oil change last November and called me to tell me that he had just taken a ride in a Prius and fell in love with it. Would I come see it? I went and I fell in love with it too. Traded in my Camry and increased my monthly payment by $30.00. Well, let me tell you I have saved that amount in gas expenditure easily. It is as roomy as my Camry was and we consistently get over 50 mpg. Everytime I put gas in it (at present about once a week and spending on an average of $15.00) I bless the day he talked me into it! Toyota rocks!

  • Leo Ast

    2008 Yaris i have had for two months is geting 36-37 city with air conditioning on, and 40 hwy.It is a base model four door with a huge trunk and is much roomier than my sons Prius.Cost me 12,300 plus tax and license.I think this is the cheapest way to get trough this oil rip off!

  • reginab

    I’m a fan of the Prius. And i want a red one. With nice old Shocks and all. Though i don’t think i can wait months for a Prius.

  • Sacha Weis

    Yeah, I just put my order in for a Prius. They told me it should be ready in about 6 months. BLAH. But, on the upside, it will be the new 2009.

  • Lori

    I waited 9 weeks for my Prius and I’ve had it for about 6 weeks now and I love it. My mileage has been getting better because the display shows you how to drive the car. Last tank was 55 mpg

  • Gil’s Mom

    I can afford one as well. But I bought it because it is as green as a car currently can get, for the mileage and because I don’t like to pay $4 per gallon in a 10 mpg SUV. It makes sense on a lot of levels.

    Plus it is damn sexy!

  • LocknLoad

    The folks with the calculators are missing the mark. First if you are only looking for transportation, then you can compare a Yaris with a Prius/Civic Hybrid. If you’re comparing features and comfort, there is no comparison. Lets compare a motorcycle to a Prius next if we’re only talking purchase price and MPG.

    Factor in the employers that pay buyers to purchase a hybrid ($3,000 from my employer), the tax incentive from the government, the gas savings, the insurance savings, and swing your best deal ($1,000 under sticker for me) and it’s a no-brainer.

    I’ve saved $1,000 in gas for the first 10,000 miles compared to my combined 22 MPG other car.

    I rented a Prius (drove 2,000 miles) liked it, but purchased a Honda Civic Hybrid. I’d do the same today if I had to do it over.

    I’m consistently surprised at the misconceptions that are still out there with hybrids. The failing batteries, two friends of mine that know a bit about cars asked where you plug them in. Hey look, I don’t sell them, if you want one get one, if not, don’t. But everyone has a unique situation, and what doesn’t make sense to you, doesn’t mean it was wrong or a bad decision.

  • Jon Flemming

    Let not forget that the Mini Cooper has a car in Europe – diesel that gets 72.5 mile per gallon. I wounder what would happen if that hit our car lots?? And I don’t see any press talking about that.

  • stixoffire

    Only 48 MPG ? What a waste… I had a 1985 Plymouth 2.2L with 5 speed (.8 top end) that I routinely got over 50 MPG on the highway, averaged 34 in the city – had 350,000 Miles on the car when I sold it – (I had 4 cars – it was the oldest – and I do miss it!).. now for the price tag you paid –
    The cost difference between my mileage and yours @ 5.00 a Gallon for 100,000 miles is about $4100 … I think I can beat you economically , not too mention – a gas powered vehicle is cheaper to maintain …
    What you should be looking for is a true solution that is economical and green- of course this innovation is 150 years old and in 2010-2011 coming to the masses …innovation

    Fuel Cell vehicles are not only much more efficient, but are also more practical as well.

    Hybrids are a horrible excuse to say you are being green…

  • stixoffire

    You ever ride in a mini cooper….

    The average American could not fit into one…perhaps this energy crisis will get people to do something novel ..WALK.. don’t cruise the parking lot and sit for 5 minutes waiting for that space at the front of the lot to open up.. PARK IT and WALK … it is healthy..

  • stixoffire

    It is amazing how many people drive according to displays – do you take their word on it too.. I have driven gasoline vehicles and the display claimed this or that..

    Here si the easy :
    Fill it up.. Set your TRIP ODOMETER to 000 miles…
    DRIVE…
    When you areready to fill it up again… NOTE how much fuel you put in, Note the mileage on the trip odometer.

    Divide

    TRIP ODOMETER / Gallons of Fuel – to 2 decimal places should be fine.

    Now you have YOUR ACTUAL MILEAGE..

  • radiocycle

    I’m not on a waiting list for the current Prius but I have a $500 deposit down at the local Toy dealership for the first PHEV to hit the showroom floor. I know it won’t be anytime soon but I just don’t want to miss the opportunity to plug in!

  • ancutza

    nice