The Toyota Prius, a once in-vogue name synonymous with the term “hybrid” and an eco-ride of choice to celebrity events last decade has had its worst sales year since 2004.

Now in its 18th year since a 2000 U.S. launch, the current fourth-generation Prius Liftback is the best example of the car that it’s ever been, was revised in 2016 thus new in its product life cycle, but its 65,680 sales in 2017 were a third less than its 98,863 sales in 2016.

Basically, the redesigned Prius has never achieved the volume of the third-generation 2010-2015 design in the U.S,. which in its outgoing year of 2015 sold 113,829, preceded by annual sales of: 122,776 in 2014, 145,172 in 2013, 147,516 in 2012, 128,064 in 2011, and 140,928 in 2010.

Sales of 65,000-some next to a peak of close to 150,000 is quite the decline.

If you hear the hybrid market is down, know that part of the reason in addition to low gas prices, and change of consumer preferences is the Prius itself is down. This is because the Prius has traditionally carried outsized importance in floating the hybrid sales charts, leading the next-best seller by 3-4 times the volume.

That is no more, and Ford’s upstart Fusion Hybrid finished just 8,157 sales down in 2017 with 57,474, followed by Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid which recorded 50,559.

Why the Downturn?

Toyota has said gas prices have contributed to lower hybrid sales. This is true but does not account for the whole reason why Liftback sales have dramatically declined.

In fact, some hybrid models were incrementally up last year, while the Liftback was down, suggesting that argument holds not much water.

Toyota’s Prius Prime might also be considered cannibalizing some sales, as it was priced midway in the Liftback’s pricing structure. It does not however account for the full decline, having sold 20,936 units – impressive for a plug-in hybrid, but not even equal to the 33,183-unit gap between 2016 and 2017 Liftback sales.

Other factors some have suggested include mindshare having shifted. The entire U.S. market of electrified cars has hovered this decade in the 3-4 percent range, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and battery electrics, and plug-ins have trended upwards, while hybrids have fallen from higher levels a few years ago.

In 2017, plug-in vehicle share increased to 0.53 percent for PHEVs and 0.61 percent for BEVs adding to 1.14 percent, and the hybrid share was 2.13 percent. In 2016, hybrid share was actually lower, at 1.99 percent, as were PHEVs at 0.42 percent and BEVs at 0.48 percent.

Prius Prime.

In 2015, it was hybrids: 2.21 percent, PHEVs 0.25 percent, BEVs 0.41 percent, and in 2014 it was hybrids 2.75 percent, PHEVs 0.34 percent, BEVs 0.39 percent. In 2013 it was hybrids 3.19 percent, and plug-ins as a category were 0.62 percent.

You get the picture. Hybrids have fallen off a bit, plug-ins are slowly climbing, the entire market is nothing like what they have in Norway, and on we go.

As for the Prius Liftback, if there is any perception factor in this whole picture, it could be that it is not considered cutting edge by people spoiled by plug-ins that now number as many as the hybrids on the market.

Further, the whole world appears to be shifting toward plug-ins with automakers seemingly every few weeks coming out with statements of how many billions they’ll spend on “electrification” and how many new electric models they’ll have by some year in the 2020s as well.

And then you have the aesthetic angle. When the new Prius was revealed in 2016, it received an outsized proportion of commenters saving their most ungracious remarks for Toyota’s designers in general and their new product in particular.

Sales by the years: 2000: 5,562; 2001: 15,556; 2002: 20,119; 2003: 24,627: 2004; 53,991; 2005: 107,897; 2006: 106,971; 2007: 181,221; 2008: 158,884; 2009: 139,682; 2010: 140,928; 2011: 128,064; 2012: 147,561; 2013: 145,172; 2014: 122,776; 2015: 113,829; 2016: 98,863; 2017: 65,630.

Other observers said they liked it, but notable were the number of rotten tomatoes virtually hurled at the new design.

For its part, Toyota indicated it saw the Prius shifting in its relative positioning more toward a mainstream car, and not as eco exotic as the ones that require new behaviors like plugging in, and being aware of local charging, and what not.

The Prius is a commodity item in fleet use too, and Toyota’s sales numbers do include fleet sales, including to taxi services, etc. – further accentuating the downturn.

The result is 2017’s sales of 65,630 were not a whole lot above 2004’s 53,991 – and indeed from 2005-onward the car never sold below 100,000 per year until generation four in 2016, highlighting just how far the car has fallen in its relative volume.

Still Has the Goods

Despite a thumbs down by consumers who’re migrating toward crossovers or one of several hybrids sedans with high-40s mpg, or even the Hyundai Ioniqs which match or beat the Prius but so far have not near the sales , the Liftback is still excellent.

Hyundai is trying hard with the higher mpg, less expensive Ioniq Hybrid. Sales last year: 10,765.

Rated 52 mpg in most trims, and 56 mpg in the Two Eco version, the car can meet or beat its numbers with some care, and is larger, roomier, better handling, and does everything better that drove the Prius name to the point Toyota considered making it its own sub brand.

Without needing incentives, it provides a relatively good value proposition, spoils owners with making stops at the gas pump much less frequent, and is also known for reliability and resale value.

Next year, Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum projects somewhere around 70,000 Liftback sales suggesting it will continue at about half the volume it did in three better years earlier this decade.

Last year Toyota celebrated the 20th anniversary for the global Prius first launched in Japan, and the car has indeed inspired a market to follow it, and maybe one of the downsides of competence is, as they say, it has nearly worked itself out of its own job – but not really.

Toyota itself is moving on, and expected to add more electrified models, including PHEVs, BEVs, and fuel cell vehicles for which it has been quite enthusiastic about as well.

So is the Prius still good? Is it still relevant? Yes, but the market that’s fast growing is populating choices around it thanks to increasingly strict regulations and other factors.

For consumers, this may be a good thing even if the once-famous Prius ultimately becomes just one more face in the crowd.