Spinning Off a Prius Brand

As new hybrids from Honda and General Motors vie for a future piece of the growing green car market, a long-standing rumor that Toyota may launch a family of Prius-branded automobiles has resurfaced. At a time when Toyota is getting beat in the publicity game by Honda and GM, questions are raised about the hybrid juggernaut’s plan to deal with the upcoming competition. An exclusive Prius brand could be the strategic response.

> Overview, reviews and photos of Toyota Prius

As a brand, Prius would become its own entity with its own dealer network—or at least its own dealer showroom—much like the Scion brand. Cars would be positioned at various price points. “You could have a series of derivatives under the Prius brand name that would allow you to market product at a much lower cost,” Jim Lentz, Toyota’s North American Sales Director, told Reuters. “To do that effectively, I think we need dedicated hybrids and I would prefer them under the Prius name.”

The return of the Prius branding idea comes soon after Honda released official photos of the company’s “Prius-fighter,” the Honda Insight—a hybrid-only model that will sell for several thousand dollars less than the Prius. GM continues to intensify its marketing efforts for the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid, scheduled for introduction in late 2010. The hybrid car market could no longer be the one-horse race that it has been for the past decade.

As Hybridcars.com reported earlier this year, the Prius brand name could feature a three car lineup of vehicles. In this scenario, Prius A would be launched in 2009—coinciding with the estimated launch date of the new Prius; Prius B in 2010, and finally Prius C in 2011. Once the launch of the Prius brand occurs, Toyota would stop selling hybrid vehicles under its own product name.

The new line-up would consist of three very distinct hybrid vehicles: a compact offering that’s smaller than the current Prius; a mid-size model that would basically be something that falls between the current Prius and the Camry; and a utility comparable in size to the Highlander. The strategy will be to cover the widest market base with the fewest number of models.

Currently, US sales for the Prius stand at about 175,000 units per year. It is by far the best selling hybrid in the world today.

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  • Ryan Keefer

    Makes a whole lot of sense to me and seems like a really smart move for Toyota. My only question is will Toyota be able to ramp up production on the whole line to meet demand?

    Also, I wonder if you’ll continue to see the Hybrid Synergy models of the Camry, Highlander, etc. I would assume so, but you never know.

  • Charles Young

    If a Prius brand name will offer more options to render non-hybrid ICE obsolete, bring it on.

    Competition is good. It drives innovation and refinement and lowers prices for the consumer. Welcome to the game, Honda and GM.

  • Will S

    While I like the Prius (I have one), this seems a little gimmicky to me, though I suppose it’s better than saying Prius-A, Prius-B, Prius-C. Since the Prius has a highly positive name recognition, this must be the reason.

  • GM hopeful

    It is GM that needs divisional definition not Toyota. Chevy should be the basic bread and butter division, Saturn would sell hybrid and advanced propulsion versions of the chevy’s, and Pontiac sell the sporty versions of the chevy models. A cookie cutter approach that might actually work.

  • Charles

    I do not care if it is a Toyota or a Prius or what part of the show room I have to go to to see it. I just want a Mazda 5 size car that gets 40+ MPG. If Ford had a hybrid Focus wagon I would look at it. I just want to put two bikes in the back and go.

  • Phil

    Get a Jetta Sportwagon

  • TD

    Uh. A jetta gets like 21 mpg city.

  • Danno

    GM has divisional definition. Chevy is their “bread-and-butter” division, but that means basic consumer cars (Aveo, Cobalt, Malibu), sporty cars (Corvette, the 2010 Camaro, Cobalt SS), and trucks (take your pick). Saturn is their more budget-minded, family-oriented brand. Buick is being revived as their luxury brand, making Cadillac their “premium” luxury/sport-luxury brand. Ponitac has always been Chevy’s sister brand, generally offering the same cars, just with different sheet metal, and often at a lower price. This is changing, because GM has nixed the idea of reviving the Firebird along side the Camaro. In the words of one GM spokesman, “The days of ‘Me-Too’ designs are over.” Pontiac doesn’t make Chevy-derived vehicles any more. Their Vibe is a re-dressed Toyota Matrix, and many of their upcoming models, like the new-for-2008 G8, are Americanized versions of GM’s Australian divison, Holden. GM is trying to turn Pontiac into the poor man’s BMW, and so far they’re doing well.

    GM is trying to get away from the laziness that’s defined them for the last 15 years. They’re creating more divisional distinction by having each brand offer distinct models, and varieties of those models to suit differing tastes. Your suggestion, while not a bad idea, would create massive marketplace confusion, not to mention organizational chaos not only in the corporate headquarters, but the manufacturing facilities and the dealerships as well.

  • Dom

    TD – I’m sure Phil meant to say “Get a Jetta Sportswagen TDI”. That does get 40+mpg. Yes, the Jetta 2.5 gets 21mpg.

    As for the Prius brand, I think it’s a dumb idea. What happens if more and more cars get hybrid-ized, in some form or other?? What does the Prius brand become?? Just another brand? Or, what happens if hybrids get superseded by something else, then what’s the point?

  • kballs

    They could just build hybrid versions of the Yaris and RAV4 (they already have hybrid Prius, Camry, and Highlander)… but I bet they’re just going for the recognition of the Prius name, and get buyers based on the hybrid “look at me I’m green” smug factor (which is lost on “stealth” hybrids that look like the regular version). I’m sure they also don’t want prospective buyers to look at the cost difference between the regular vs. hybrid version because then they might not buy the hybrid (dedicated hybrid models can hide the cost – at least from people that don’t go out of their way to crunch the numbers and compare with otherwise similar cars).

  • Paul Rivers

    “I do not care if it is a Toyota or a Prius or what part of the show room I have to go to to see it. I just want a Mazda 5 size car that gets 40+ MPG. If Ford had a hybrid Focus wagon I would look at it. I just want to put two bikes in the back and go.”

    Here, here, me to! I’d even settle for 35mpg.

  • Jerry

    I don’t care what they name it
    If it carrys five people, golf clubs mountian bike and reasonable looks; I’ll buy it

  • Shines

    Who started this silly rumor? The reasons the Prius is the best selling hybrid are 1) It is the highest mileage hybrid and 2) it is a Toyota.
    Look at the number 2 hybrid – even though the Civic Hybrid gets better mileage than the Camry the Camy is number 2 among hybrids – also because it is a Toyota. I don’t think Toyota needs to make a Prius brand. If they design a smaller even more fuel efficient car and give it a new name I’m sure it will sell just fine.
    The Highlander is also a fine (if expensive) hybrid. I would think removing the hybrid models from the Toyota showrooms would potetially reduce the sales of their non-hybrid models.

  • mOOseWinkle

    What about battery availability? The limiting factor for Toyota building the Prius has been limited (and single-source) battery production. Simply re-branding it won’t solve underlying production limitations… (and I am an avid Prius and Toyota fan)

  • perfectapproach

    Since hybrid technology has proved that it can deliver a horsepower/torque boost as well as a fuel efficiency boost, I think it would be a good idea for Toyota to market the following under the Prius name:

    1) a small hybrid SUV, along the lines of the Ford Escape.
    2) a Prius-styled wagon, along the lines of a Jetta GTI…maybe with a longer wheelbase than the GTI.
    3) a 2-seater sport coupe (a la Honda’s CR-Z) with the electric boost dedicated more for torque/horsepower than efficiency.
    4) the current Prius sedan as it exists today, with maybe some updated stylings and a LI-ion or LI-polymer battery.

    In the past few months, I have seen posts from people who are dissatisfied with current hybrid technology in that they wish hybrid cars either had more horsepower, or more fuel efficiency. Obviously, horsepower and fuel efficiency are on opposite sides of some cryptic equation, and so you have to trade one for the other. Until now, hybrid-car manufacturers have only been delivering cars with either some mix of both, or biased towards being more fuel-efficient. Nobody is giving buyers much of a choice. Toyota’s latest plan MAY allow people to choose which one they want, instead of ONLY hybrids that have been balanced for “average” horsepower and “better than average” fuel efficiency.

  • Anonymous

    prius wagon prius wagon prius wagon prius wagon. The first company that produces a hybrid wagon gets my money.

  • mdensch

    All of this is nothing more than speculation at this point. Toyota is a very conservative, cautious corporation and won’t go down this road without a lot of market research first.

    While it may look great at first glance, it would take a lot of capital to make it happen, both for the parent company and the local dealers and would only be worth it if the company’s market share expands enough to justify it. Fact is, many of the sales would come at the expense of other Toyota product lines, especially the Yaris and the Scion line. And, as the article noted, the Camry hybrid would go away under such a plan.

    Bottom line: Don’t hold your breath. This rumor rears its head from time to time and is probably no closer to reality now than it was before.

  • D. B.

    “Here, here, me to! I’d even settle for 35mpg.”

    sorry, i always have to correct this when i see it. i think i’ve made it a neurosis. it’s “hear! hear!” not “here! here!” …i have waaay too much annoying canadian politics on the brain right now. 😛

  • Bubba Nicholson

    Your analysis is prescient, but lacks historical perspective. For want of any profits (and therefore pull), Saturn’s R & D has been limited to searching out other GM models for it to rebrand as Saturns. Recall that Saturn dealers leased the GM branded EV1’s, remember THAT fiasco? GM and Saturn branding appealed to what, about 800 drivers? Choosing Chevy branding for the Volt is a conscious effort on the part of upper GM management to attempt to do something to avoid repeating those mistakes. Once Volt sales take off, perhaps a transfer over to Saturn might make some sense, restoring order to the universe as it were.
    Toyota’s threat to disenfranchise it’s dealer network may be exertion of leverage to keep the market savvy American small business owners from taking advantage of current Prius shortages by charging premium prices for them.

  • Collin Burnell

    I think creating a Prius ‘line’ does more to limit possibilities than expand possibilities. I think Toyota (and all manufacturers) need to contuniue to make great cars that ALL have a hybrid option. As hybrids mature and get double or triple the fuel economy of non-hybrids the hybrid powertrain option will become more and more popular.

  • Anonymous

    D.B is a deuche bag

  • kurtdaniel

    i trust prius!!so go on with whatever your plan is!!!

  • Max Reid

    Well, Honda is going to have 3 models.
    Insight – 5 Seater, 5 Door Hatch
    CR-Z – 4 Seater, 3 Door Hatch
    Civic – 5 Seater, 4 Door Sedan

    This combination is going to offer stiff competition to Toyota. This helps the rumor that Prius will come in 3 models.

    In that case, what will happen to Camry, Highlander, Rx400h, Gs450h, LS600h.
    They are not going to scrap those models.

    Also Toyota indicated that by 2020, all their vehicles will offer a Hybrid version, in that case what will happen to Prius (A, B, C).

    Toyota just keeps quite, I think they would continue to retain Prius as a 5 Seater, 5 Door Hatch. It will be better, if they offer a Wagon version, since Wagon’s offer more space that a Hatch and lot more than Sedan.

    Its an interesting topic. But 1 thing is clear, if the automakers dont move away from Oil, then the Trains & Buses are going to eat their market.
    Let us see.

  • Anonymous


    The design shown in the above website for next gen Prius looks more like a wagon, which means it will have lot more cargo capacity (close to that of Crown Vic). If they make it bit more wider, a 6 seats can be offered.

    Many people who wants a minivan will consider this.

    If they want to offer 3 versions, they can offer something like
    PriusA – 2 Seater (Retirees, singles, rentals will buy this) – 140 inches length
    PriusE – 4 Seater (Small families and taxis will buy this) – 160 inches length
    PriusU – 6 Seater (Somewhat bigger families will buy this) – 180 inches length
    All the above will be pronounced as 1 word like (Priusah, Priusee, Priusoo).

    All can have same design and this will cut the cost for the product.