Last month the Toyota Prius Prime overtook the Chevy Volt’s lead in cumulative sales this year and the two cars are neck and neck sprinting toward a December 31 finish line.

If the Prius ends the year with more total sales than the Volt, it will become the first plug-in hybrid to do so since the Volt originated the category in 2011.

Through November, the Prime has 18,516 sales versus the Volt’s 18,412. In October the tally had been 16,682 Primes to 16,710 Volts, and the Prime’s 1,834 sales in November closed and eliminated that 28-sales lead the Volt had, as the Chevy sold 1,702 in November.

Last year the Volt set its all-time record in its first year in redesigned generation-two form, with 24,739 sales. Clearly it is well below that high-water mark – and the two years in 2012 and 2013 in which the gen-one Volt sold in the 23,000 range.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s upstart with less than half the EPA-rated electric range (25 miles vs. the Volt’s 53), is setting new highs for itself as it also is a full redesign. Therefore this is also is a race between the only two plug-in electrified vehicles sold in the U.S. that have received a full second-generation revision.

So, like the Volt did in its first year, Toyota could be riding a wave with its “all new” glow one-year fresher, and other things are in play as well.

Like the Volt did last year, the Prime has also had to overcome the fact that supply was limited in the earlier months its first year, as it was a period of nationwide rollout for the first several months. Notable is it too is no where near on track to matching the Volt’s almost 25,000 sales last year.

This said, one might have surmised the Volt, being yet very early in its product life cycle since the 2016 redesign would have been still gaining momentum, and the Prime never would have had a chance its first year to overtake it, but that is not the case.


No one has a perfect view into the macro picture of many variables affecting market reception and sales performance, but certainly several factors are in play.

Included are price, EV range, design and style, driving performance, perceived value, functionality, perceived resale value, anticipated reliability and more.

Car sales trainers have long emphasized that consumers buy based on “feelings,” and have a tendency to justify a subjective decision with rationalizations, touting perceived objective factors to support why they feel they made a good decision.

Hot button motives in the unique subcategory of plug-in hybrids of course is all-electric range. The capability to drive the car like a part-time pure EV for a stretch of miles is the one major benefit one gets in paying up for a plug-in hybrid versus a regular gas-electric hybrid.

To some, there is not a little irony that the Volt would be threatened by the Prime. On paper, the Volt with 53 miles all-electric range is heads-above the 25-mile EPA rating for the Prime.

Apparently however, there are just about as many buyers who are willing to opt for the sum total value proposition represented by Toyota’s Prius Prime.


Obviously, there are many voting with their bank accounts for the Prime, and that it’s priced less is a factor.

The Volt costs about $34,000 before a $7,500 federal tax credit. The Prime is around $28,000 at entry level and is eligible for a $4,500 federal credit. Toyota also sharpened its pencil and made the Prime attractive next to even the non-subsidy eligible, non-plug-in Prius Liftback.

The Prime now starts within the low and high price points for the Liftback, meaning the Prime can be perceived by more tire kickers as a good deal at the Toyota dealer than was previously the case.

Without factoring potential state incentives which may narrow the Volt-Prius difference further, the Volt nets for an effective $26,500 and the Prime is around $23,500 – around a $3,000 gap at sticker, and not factoring dealer discounts, or special offers.


Both sip fuel in gas-electric hybrid mode, with the icing on the cake being all-electric range so they can run as pure EVs for a stretch, ideally long enough to avoid gas day to day.

Although the Volt beats the Prime’s electric range with 53 miles vs. 25, the Prime beats the Volt in mpg. The Prime when driven in regular hybrid mode beats most trims of the donor Prius Liftback with 54 mpg, instead of 52, whereas the Volt – a purpose-built “extended-range electric vehicle” – is rated 42 mpg.


The Prime has been unofficially declared better looking than the non-plug-in Prius Liftback whose incongruous techno origami lines don’t resonate so well with many with a Western eye, but it otherwise is still a cleaned up Prius.

The Volt is as handsome as any Cruze, with a dash of Honda Civic, and Kia Forte to make a serviceable car to suit the conspiracy to make all cars blend in to anyone not looking for sub details.

Inside, both cars are inviting, but the Prime is roomier in the back seat in terms of legroom. Yes the Volt has a middle perch for a child’s seat or short hops, theoretically adding space the four-seat Prime lacks, but the Volt is otherwise best for four full-size people.

For the driver, both are quite satisfactory with an array of infotainment, with the bigger display being in the Toyota.


The compact Volt has 10.6 cubic feet cargo volume, and the midsized Prime lets you cram in more stuff with 19.8 cubic feet. The Volt however has seating (theoretically) for five, while the Prime devolved back to four.

Fun To Drive Factor

Here the edge may go to the Volt.

The 1.8-liter Prius Prime has 121 net system horsepower, compared to the Volt’s 1.5-liter hybrid powertrain rated for 149 horses, and unlike Toyota, Chevrolet provides a torque figure of 294 pounds-feet – respectable.

With all its torque instantly available from a standstill, the 3,543-pound Volt leaps to 30 mph in just 2.6 seconds – quicker than the 2.9-second Bolt EV – and this satisfies the itch for useable acceleration in these cars’ natural habitat – around town.

And, the Volt reaches 60 mph in around 8.4 seconds, and not bad compared to the 3,365-pound Prime, which mozies 0-60 in the neighborhood of 10 seconds. The Prime is not sluggish feeling, but it’s at the other end of the spectrum from any kind of a hot hatch.

Both cars however are competent handlers, even on their low rolling resistance tires.

The Prius has always enjoyed the disdain of some performance car enthusiasts as a bit of a limp noodle around corners, and the Volt entered life and continues the ethos of being more engaging.

SEE ALSO: 2017 Toyota Prius Prime Review – Video

Toyota remedied that with the Prime’s stiffer “Toyota New Global Architecture” (TNGA) chassis and more-expensive-to-produce (slightly) double wishbone rear suspension make it track in a worthy manner around the bends much better than Prius generations of yore.


Toyota originated the Prius hybrid in Japan 20 years ago, the plug-in came along in 2012. The Prius has a strong fan base, and solid track record. This said, the Volt has a strong if smaller fan base, and for those who’d sneer at a Chevy or American car in general, sometimes stereotypes are undeserved, and such would be the case for Volt.

Chevrolet has been racking up quality and consumer satisfaction survey awards for a few years now, and the Volt has been afforded white glove treatment.

Reliability has been relatively good, and the Volt’s liquid-cooled 18.4-kWh battery has had a very good reliability and range-holding record.

The Volt is also more pure in the sense that it is purpose made as an extended-range EV, and not a modified hybrid car. Also, its battery costs Chevrolet more to produce than the 8.8-kWh unit in the Toyota’s rear under seat area, so a Volt buyer is getting value in this regard.

SEE ALSO: 2017 Chevy Volt Review – Video

On the other hand, Toyota includes standard its advanced Toyota Safety Sense suite, so that in turn is another value to add to the balance sheet comparing relative merits between the two.

More Could Be Said

Chevrolet does not advertise the Volt except to niche audiences, and it’s been said many a time at the forum that GM sells as many of the Volt as it wishes for compliance purposes.

Conspiracy theorists also postulate GM refused to make Voltec spinoffs for years since it floated the idea with a crossover concept shown in 2010 in China, and meanwhile Toyota elevated its compliance keeper from 15 state availability to nationwide.

Its new car is better than the 2012-2015 gen-one Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the value proposition is better, and it is strinking on song on many notes that add up to a responsive chord struck to the eyes and ears of car shoppers.

Now the gap between the two is 114 sales, it is close enough either could finish ahead, so we shall see.