Toyota Sees a Future With Prius as #1 Seller
By Chris Haak
Toyota’s sales chief, Bob Carter, told analysts today on a conference call that by the end of the decade – that is, by 2020 – he expects that we will see the Prius nameplate in the US. Currently, the number-one selling vehicle is the Ford F-Series pickup line (both F-150 and Super Duty combined), which sold 473,461 units through the first eleven months of 2010. The top-selling car, Toyota’s Camry, sold 296,581 units during the same period, and Toyota sold 125,289 Priora.
Helping to boost Prius sales, aside from a sales guy’s optimism, will be an MPV with more room for passengers and cargo (making its debut in Detroit next week), the Prius PHEV (plug-in hybrid) making its production debut next year, and an “additional concept” that will debut in Detroit next week as well.
The Prius is already the best selling hybrid car in the history of the industry, and sells more copies than all other hybrid cars combined do. Crude oil prices creeping above $100 per barrel, and retail gasoline prices creeping above $3.00 per gallon will certainly play a role in any hope the Prius may have of claiming the annual sales crown, as would sticking the Prius name on at least three different vehicles and counting them all as “Prius sales.” Toyota pulls this trick with the Matrix, whose sales results are combined with the Corolla, although the Matrix says “Matrix” on its hatch, rather than “Corolla Matrix,” and the cars share few, if any, visible parts.
This will not be a walk in the park for Toyota, though, with a number of environmentally-friendly competitors gunning for green bragging rights. The Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf have already hit the market, and may make some inroads with the Prius’ fanbase, and the Mitsubishi i and Ford Focus EV will also steal some potential sales away from the Prius and its future family members. Chevrolet has shown a Volt MPV on the auto-show circuit that is conceptually similar to the Prius MPV, but hasn’t announced production plans for it yet.
Toyota, by the way, is not conceding Camry sales. Though the company’s standard-bearer in the crowded midsize sedan segment is certainly showing its age and due for replacement soon, Carter was quick to point out that although the Camry will be in second place, that’s not because of a drop in Camry sales, but rather growth in Prius sales.
It remains to be seen whether Carter’s – indeed, Toyota’s – objectives are achievable. A lot will depend on how well the MPV is received by the media and public, on gasoline prices (though this factor is likely tilting in the Prius’ favor lately), and what the competiton is able to offer. If Toyota can continue to improve and refine the Prius, making it more efficient and more comfortable, at a pace faster than its upstart competitors, then Toyota might have a chance.