Nov. 20, 2006: The Detroit News—Toyota Prius Sales Lag in China

Summary: "When Toyota Motor Corp. announced two years ago that it would produce Prius hybrids in China, it seemed like a sure bet.

The air in China’s biggest cities is thick with pollution, and the government is pushing up taxes on gas guzzlers. China appeared to be an ideal market for Toyota’s gasoline-electric car. But sales of the Prius have been extremely disappointing.

‘We started with a target of 3,000 a year, but we’re running short of that,’ said Yoshimi Inaba, an executive vice president of Toyota and its top executive in China. Prius sales are currently running at around 100 a month, or less than half the rate required to meet the annual goal.

The Prius’s poor showing, an anomaly in Toyota’s otherwise dynamic performance in China, suggests that energy conservation is not a priority among China’s newly rich consumers."

It also shows what happens when a government, in this case Beijing, doesn’t enact policies that help it toward its stated goals. We’re not talking world domination here, just a reduction in the nation’s choking pollution levels and greenhouse gas emissions.

The Prius is collateral damage; it may not have been the intended target of high tariffs on imported technology, but they make its base price in China nearly double that in the US. There are no incentives like tax breaks, solo carpool lane privileges, or free parking that could offset that high price.

And it’s just not culturally cool enough to be eco-wise in this go-go-go economy. Chinese movie stars don’t emerge from gas-sippers at their premieres—and Yao Ming flogs hamburgers, not hybrid synergy.

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