It was the Chevy Volt’s game to lose, but lose it finally did as the Toyota Prius Prime eclipsed its year-end sales tally to take the Volt’s place as America’s best-selling plug-in hybrid.

With 2,420 sales in December to add to 18,516 through November, the Prime again had a better month than the Volt and finished with 20,936 for the year. The Volt’s 1,937 sales in December added to 18,412 through November for 20,349 total, and a deficit of 587 sales.

This was the first time the Volt’s sales had been beaten by any plug-in hybrid since the Volt was launched in Dec. 2010.

It occurred as momentum faded in 2017 for the second-generation Volt – which had been released last year as an evolution of the car that started it all in 2011 – and this year saw an almost 18-percent decline.

The Prime, the only other fully revised gen-two plug-in car came from a disadvantage in that its rollout to the nation’s dealers was this year, and despite limited supplies in the earlier months of the year, it out-did the sitting plug-in sales champ.

Measured Decision

Both cars are obviously compelling prospects to those wishing part-time EV drive, and as one might expect, their respective fans tend to focus on their respective strengths.

The single biggest reason to get a plug-in hybrid is all-electric range – as they morph back to regular hybrids when their lithium-ion batteries are depleted, so EV range is what sets them apart from plain hybrids without a plug.

On this score, the Volt crushes the Prime by two miles for every one, or 53 miles EV range versus 25 on the EPA cycle. That right there is considered a slam dunk to many buyers, but then others get to looking at other attributes.

The midsized Prime is somewhat bigger than the compact Volt, with almost double the cargo area, and it rides on the coattails of the 20-year legacy of the Prius from Toyota. Toyota and Japanese car loyalists consider this, and the implicit hope of better reliability, resale value, engineering quality, and maybe even brand prestige in their minds.

That said, the Volt has been a “halo” car like a green Corvette for the brand, and buyers are afforded white glove treatment as though they’d purchased a Buick or Cadillac. GM also has much it wants to prove about its ability to build higher quality into its products, and the car was engineered as a purpose-built “extended-range electric” car and has a relatively good track record.

The redesign however closely resembles the Cruze, while the Prime of course adds styling details to the fourth-gen Prius from which it was hewn.

Not forgetting other efficiency metrics, the Prime wallops the Volt in hybrid mode with 54 mpg versus 42. And, even if the Volt’s 18.4-kWh battery provides more EV range than the Prime’s 8.8-kWh unit, it does so with less efficiency per mile. The Prime is rated 133 MPGe – or 25 kWh/100 miles – and the Volt is rated 106 MPGe – or 31 kWh per 100 miles.

Toyota Prius Prime.

The EPA says operating costs on 15,000 annual miles is only $250 difference, but for those who on principle want the squeaky cleanest, the Prime wins in both electric and gas efficiency.

Apart from that however, people have to drive and enjoy the car. On this score the more-powerful Volt has a reputation as relatively peppy with 0-30 mph in 2.6 seconds, 0-60 in 8.4, and the Prime saunters to 60 in maybe 10-point-something or even the 11s depending on climate.

Both handle relatively well. The Volt has since its introduction, and for the redesign, Toyota added an independent rear double wishbone suspension to the stiffer Toyota New Global Architecture chassis to improve its around-corners manners as well.

Even on low rolling resistance tires they are competent, and actually, neither feels unsatisfactory and both are reasonably entertaining on a winding road, but the Volt is faster.

Chevrolet Volt.

As for comfort, both vehicles are room and well equipped for front seat occupants, and in back the Prime’s longer space provides more legroom. It is limited to four passengers total, and the Volt technically allows five, but the middle rear “seating position” is best for smaller people or is useful for a child’s seat.


Toyota also folds in standard its Prius Safety Sense advanced safety suite and the Japanese automaker sharpened its pencil this year with the new generation.

The Prime comes in three trims, Prime Plus ($27,985), Prime Premium ($29,685), and Prime Advanced ($33,985) – all including an $885 destination fee. The Volt comes in two trims, the LT ($33,995), and Premier ($38,345) – including an $825 destination fee.

And entry level Prime also happens to be perched midway in the price range of the non-plug-in Liftback, is eligible for a $4,500 federal tax credit, and potential state incentives as the case may be. The Volt is eligible for a $7,500 federal credit – so it stands to halve the $6,010 difference in sticker prices between the less-expensive Prime and itself. Assuming federal credit, the Volt nets to $26,495 and the Prime nets to $23,485.

That $23,485 by the way is $875 below the price of the base Prius One Liftback which stickers for $24,360 with destination. This helps explain in part why the Prime has sold so much better than the more costly, and shorter range former plug-in Prius.


Of course other variables and factors leading to a purchase decision could be added to the salient points highlighted.

Rumor has it that the Volt may be canceled after this generation runs its course into next decade. A crossover is rumored but not confirmed, and GM is more outspoken about the prospects of its pure EV future, with 20 new models based on learnings from the Chevy Bolt.

Speaking of which, the Bolt outsold the Volt in 2017 with 23,297 sales to the Volt’s 20,349, and it surely contributed to the decline in the Volt’s sales as buyers migrated to the 238-mile range EV with the similar name.

How did Toyota’s pure EV do? It didn’t, as Toyota has no pure EV for sale as of yet, though it’s saying these are in the works for later this decade or early next.

In all, it was close, and either car can satisfy. It all depends on what one’s priorities are, but the bottom line is the market spoke in favor of the Prime.