Toyota’s foresight pays off, Part 1: Prius sales top one million

The Toyota Prius is “the world’s first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid car to hit 1 million in sales.” More than half of those were sold in North America. Toyota’s goal is to sell more than one million per year.


I own one and must say it is a terrific car. I get about 45 miles per gallon combined city and highway — double the mpg of my old Saturn, which was not as big.

I think the comments from the Wired blog bear repeating, considering how GM (and others) mocked Toyota for pushing what they claimed was a money-losing vehicle:

With demand rising and supplies falling, Toyota has – surprise! – cut incentives and raised prices. The Prius goes for an average of $25,274, up $869 from a year ago, according to JD Power.

It’s hard to believe it now, but the Prius was a hell of gamble when Toyota unveiled in in 1997, when gas was cheap, SUVs ruled the earth and global warming was only beginning to penetrate mainstream consciousness. Today the Prius is the gold standard for eco-friendly vehicles and Toyota has expanded its hybrid line to include the Camry and Highlander.

But the Prius is the cash cow, and Toyota will unveil the next-generation model at the Detroit auto show in January. Auto Observer says it will be bigger, cleaner and more fuel efficient. Toyota also is developing a plug-in version that could be in showrooms by 2010.

Those who follow the energy/climate issue and Toyota, however, are not surprised. Alone among major car companies, Toyota has taken seriously both peak oil and global warming. So Toyota has understood for a long time something that Detroit and conservative politicians don’t — the car of the future has high fuel efficiency and the ability to use an inexpensive low-carbon fuel. That makes the hybrid vehicle, with its ability to transition to the plug in, the most important vehicle platform of the century (see “Plug-in hybrids and electric cars — a core climate solution, nationally and globally“).

The other lesson for car companies is that you need to use most of the hybrid technology to save gasoline, not increased power. Honda failed to understand that with their Accord hybrid (see here and here). With 255 horsepower and, ultimately, a city mileage of 25 mpg (!), the car sold 25,000 units since 2004, and a mere 6,100 of the 2007 mode. Honda will not be hybridizing the next generation in 2008.

Kudos to Toyota.

30 Responses to Toyota’s foresight pays off, Part 1: Prius sales top one million

  1. Robert says:

    Good marketing, but is the Prius any better than other vehicles with a more conventional power train and none of those expensive, heavy, carbon-intensive batteries? The VW Blue Motion achieves better MPG than the Prius and is not a hybrid.

    “Modifications to engine, bodywork and transmission mean 70mpg is possible, while a CO2 figure of 102g/km beats even a Toyota Prius.”

  2. Robert says:

    Its fascinating that hybrids are exempt from the hefty London congestion charge just because they are hybrids! The Toyota Lexus 450H hybrid (186g/km) is free whereas the VW BlueMotion (102g/km) will cost you £8/day to take into London.

    Proves the point that emission legislation needs to go straight for the jugular (i.e. taxing and limiting the primary fossil fuel) not picking (non) solutions.

  3. exusian says:

    We own one too, Joe. We get about 43 mpg in the summer, which is not quite double what our 10 year old Subaru wagon got, but much less than that in the winter when the heater eats up much of the battery power and snow tires offer higher rolling resistance, but we still think it was a wise move, given gas prices right now.

    An illustration of just how badly GM doesn’t get it: they had the usual big display at a recent Green Living Show in the convention center here. They actually had some of their big suvs on display(!), and the only ‘green’ vehicle present was their demo hydrogen suv. The Malibu hybrid, which you can actually buy, was no where to be seen!!! When I mentioned this to one of the reps they squirmed, whispered “I know” and walked away. The booth was pretty empty, but there was always a crowd around the Prius in the Toyota booth across the aisle. Clueless.

  4. Joe says:

    Robert — Yes, the Prius is “any better than other vehicles with a more conventional power train.” Thanks for your link — it shows just how special the Prius is. I think I will do a couple more posts on this subject.

  5. Ben says:

    Luckily bikes are outselling Prii.

  6. Robert says:

    Joe – I don’t understand your response. The figures clearly show that the VW range get better fuel consumption than the Prius and only cost 2/3.

    Hybrids “might” be the way forward, but we should let the market find out for itself, not skew it with tax incentives.

  7. Joe says:

    VW costs the same (!), is much smaller, has a diesel engine (hence significant small particulates), and in real-world driving may not get much better mpg.

  8. caerbannog says:

    Have diesel advocates looked at the price of gasoline vs. diesel lately?

    Given that refineries get approximately 10 gallons of diesel vs about 20 gallons of gasoline from each barrel of oil, don’t look for the diesel vs gasoline economics to get any better.

    Also, when comparing the Prius vs conventional cars, don’t make the mistake of comparing the Prius with subcompacts. Based upon passenger/trunk space, the Prius is a mid-sized car (just a bit smaller than a Camry).

    In the future, should the economics warrant it, Toyota could easily design/produce a diesel hybrid.

  9. Lamont says:

    Someone needs to point out to the american car manufacturers that the “super size me” era is ending. They don’t seem to get it.

    And it’d be nice if someone would make a light truck the size of the old 1980s era toyota pickup truck that had a hybrid engine.

  10. john says:

    US car manufacturers will be sitting in front of Congress begging for relief as their profits (such as they are) evaporate, as they struggle to catch up to Toyota.

    Robert, there is wisdom in giving a “platform” an advantage if that platform offers much more than others. Your VW is at the apogee of what it can achieve; a PHEV can ealily get 100 mpg.

    And by the way, the VW polo is a stripped down mini, without air conditioning, power mirrors and other add-ons. Comparing that to a Prius is like comparing apples to kumquats.

    I drive a Prius, and there are no compromises — it competes head-up with anything on the market in its class.

  11. oku says:

    “Modifications to engine, bodywork and transmission mean 70mpg is possible, while a CO2 figure of 102g/km beats even a Toyota Prius.”

    Just barely. From here it’s 99g/km for the BlueMotion and 104g/km for the Prius. When comparing the mileage of diesel with gasoline vehicles you also have to keep in mind that diesel contains more carbon, see here.

    Joe, I usually get more than 45mpg with my Prius. I am disappointed when I make it below 50 mpg. Of course it depends very much on the route and number of persons driving.

  12. Mark Shapiro says:

    And the winning designs are:
    – high speed rail
    – new urbanism
    – bus rapid transit
    – personal rapid transit (also called cybertran)
    – lighter weight
    – better aerodynamics
    – An electric motor at each wheel, just inboard from the suspension, with a one cylinder diesel generator; later a stirling cycle generator.

    I can dream . . . meanwhile my next car is a Prius.

  13. David B. Benson says:

    Zap Car makes all-electric 3 wheelers. There is one around here, a XEBRA. Great little commute car.

  14. Robert says:

    Joe, For what it’s worth I drive a 1.8 litre petrol Audi A4 and am willing to bet that I generate less CO2 than any of you! This is because I work at home and access my client’s systems remotely, so commuting mileage is now virtually zero. We order our shopping online and have it delivered – far more efficient than driving down to the store (the 21st century version of public transport?). It’s not what verhicles you own. It’s how you use them.

    Don’t forget that we are all the lucky (selfish) 1 in 6 of the world’s population that own cars. I wonder what the other 5 think of us for wrecking their climate.

    Lastly, it is somewhat pointless arguing the pros and cons of different vehicles if all available oil and gas is going to get consumed anyway. The planet won’t care whether it was burned in a Japanese engine or a German engine.

  15. Robert Merkel says:

    If one may be a cynical curmudgeon, might one also suggest that the less of the Prius is that people care about being seen to be driving a hybrid car.

    Sales of the Camry hybrid aren’t exactly brilliant.

  16. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    I drive an ’82 Merc Capri HB with a 3.3 L push-rod, in-line 6, and I don’t care about gas prices. Like the pink bunny, it just keep going, and going and going! In the summer fuel consumption is about 15 mi/gal and in winter ca 12 mi/gal. I got my ticket to ride, and I don’t care.

    Insurance is only $850 per year.

  17. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Hey Joe!

    If a big honking Lincoln Navigator crushed your little tuna can and wiped out the battery pack in a rear end collision, how much would it cost to repair it ?

  18. Joe says:

    Harold — enjoy your gas guzzler while you can. It’s part of what makes America what it is. My car isn’t particularly little, and I’ll take its handling to avoid the collision in the first place. If the Navigator flips over, how much will that cost to repair?

    BTW, my Prius has retained its value a lot more than the Navigator, which some dealers are not even taking his trade-ins these days — just wait until gasoline is over five dollars a gallon….

  19. exusian says:

    Because Canadian dealers have already sold their 2008 allocation, my 2007 Prius is actually worth more used than I paid for it. That should tell you something, Herald.

  20. charlie says:

    yeah, the Prius is just a fad car. Not my cup of tea,but I didn’t like the Ford Explorer as well. the answer is to move the number of miles being driven down. As I said before, average UK drivers puts 9K miles on the car, average US driver puts 12K, and a driver in Virginia (which is probably typical for suburban commuters) puts about 17K. Just saving 20 gallons of gas per year for every car in the US would result in result in a 3% drop in our oil imports, and excellent CO2 savings. That number is about 400 miles a year, or little more than a mile a day. Imagine a migration to the average virginia driver going at 15K per year.

  21. Robert says:


    “just wait until gasoline is over five dollars a gallon….”

    That works out at just under 69 pence a litre. The last time I bought petrol at that price (in the UK) was about 10 years ago:- Last week unleaded hit 114 pence/litre and diesel 126 p/l.

    Obviously the reason is tax. But it sort of proves the point that gas in the US only “seems” expensive, relative to what people are used to paying. In the UK large engined SUV-style cars are still very popular and perhaps something of a badge of honour – an overt display that people can afford to be extravagent. Range Rovers, BMW X5’s, Nissan Navarras and the like are around in great numbers.

    So why isn’t the Prius more popular in the UK? And why is it popular at all in the US? Economically it makes limited sense, but I guess people like to look “green” and Leonardo diCaprio has one…

    If you really want to be economical and just get from A to B using the least fuel the Prius is not the automatic choice. Also, the hybrid loses most of its advantages once you take to the motorway (sorry, freeway). In this comparison the Prius comes 5th out of 6.

  22. Joe says:

    Robert — my comment was directed at the gas guzzler, not the world.

    The main reason the previous isn’t more popular in the UK is that Europe as a whole has been pushing diesels, which are less attractive here for a number of reasons including the fact that we have much tougher urban air quality standards.

    Thanks so much for the link — it makes clear why the Prius is the car to buy if you care about global warming!!!

  23. exusian says:

    “the answer is to move the number of miles being driven down.”

    Or both Charlie. We started drastically reducing km/yr long before buying the Prius (we needed to replace an aging car anyway) by simply reducing unnecessary trips period, and using public transit and biking/walking to shop locally.

  24. dotcommodity says:

    Lamont Says:

    it’d be nice if someone would make a light truck the size of the old 1980s era toyota pickup truck that had a hybrid engine

    Theres a couple of electric vehicle manufacturers who soon will have full electric or hybrids on the market in 2009 or 2010:

    Full electric full size (supermarket sized) vans (and then will do smaller pickups) Modec and Smith Electric Vehicles:

    Norway’s TH!NK is coming back to the US, so they will make trucks too most likely:

    Electric pickup

  25. charlie says:

    exusian — for most people it would be more economical to just cut miles driven rather than the extra money for a hybrid. Yes, the Prius isn’t that expensive but it insn’t a great car. I drive about 3500 miles a year. Yes, a Prius would save me a bit on gas money, but I’d rather drive the V8 around for that amount.

    Most people aren’t buying Priuis for the economics — it’s for the fashion or the HOV license. Again, if that is your car I’m not dissing it. Just saying that it doesn’t float the boat for a lot of people, and that Robert is quite right that hybrids aren’t doing well (outside of the Prius).

    Diesels are horribly polluting. Almost over city in europe has worse air pollution than LA (the worst american city) — and that is entirely particulate matter from diesels.

  26. Ric Merritt says:

    Robert Merkel suggests that people may buy a Prius because its distinctive look means you can be recognized as driving a hybrid. This may be true of some purchasers, but certainly not of all. Since we buy a car only once a decade, I was not very up to date in 2006 on what was available to follow our Corolla purchases of the 80’s and 90’s. I thought a Corolla or Camry hybrid might be nice. Once we went shopping and found out what was available, it was no contest. The Prius won hands down because of the huge advantage in mileage. Nothing else comes close. Looks didn’t enter into it.

    BTW, actual mileage depends heavily on route, driving habits, and warm engine (short trips and winter are bad). For us, 48 mpg for the whole year in Wisconsin. If I had a longer commute from 10-15 miles out of town, I could easily add 5 mpg to that, while burning more fuel overall.

  27. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Hey Joe!

    I am paying $5.00 CDN/ US gal, and I don’t care!

  28. I always wonder about people like Harold Pierce. He starts by telling us he drives a car that was obsolete the day it was built (pushrods in 1982?!?) and got extremely poor gas mileage even by the standards of the time. I’m guessing this vehicle also exhibits the “stylistic elegance” and attention to fine craftsmanship that marked most American cars of the early 80s.

    So when we see Harold coming we already know he’s not the brightest match in the box, and then he adds “But what if I’m an extremely poor driver?”

    Harold, I’m already assuming you’re an extremely poor driver, and quite possibly a drinker to boot. I didn’t live this long by trusting Ford drivers to keep me safe on the roads. The only way you’re going to hit me is by suddenly crossing the center line, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to like that less than I am, even if my German car is older than your Detroit junk.

    So Harold’s driving a car that tells us he has no taste, poor judgement, and quite possibly no driving skills to speak of at all. And here he comes to the fork in the road. Should he make fun of people who drive cars that indicate intelligence and the ability to care for the environment? Or should he just repeat that he doesn’t care? I’m pretty sure that eventually his answer will be ‘both’.

    In reality, a lot of people are buying hybrids who couldn’t care less what other people think of them. Mature people seem to think it’s a good choice, and I suspect they’re right.

  29. Harold Pierce Jr says:

    Serial Catowner

    You are another one of the gutless wonders who hides behind an alias because you ain’t them fortitude to use your real name. Easy to bad-mouth people when you don’t have show your ugly face.

    Dr. Pierce says, “Hush your stupid, ignorant mouth, you hear me now?

  30. keith says:

    I don’t think I’d want to be in a prius in the event of a rear end collision- the battery is adjacent to the fuel tank-
    I would think the probability of an explosion is high-
    remember the crown victoria- gm has placed the gas tank adjacent to the battery as well in their volt- honda has the fuel tank and battery at opposite ends of their vehicle-
    a better idea I think