Drivers in California may not have noticed since the Toyota Prius is practically their state car (if there was such a thing), but nationwide the sales of the new Toyota Prius hybrid are anything but stellar.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Toyota’s U.S. sales of its new hybrid have dipped. Meanwhile, in Japan, the latest Toyota hybrid is the top-selling car.
This is not to say that the latest hybrid from Toyota, which came out in December 2015, is anything but a terrific vehicle. It is, however, a recognition of a fact: As gas has gotten cheaper, American consumers have gone with their wallets to larger cars, crossovers and SUVs. Truth be told, unless you’re strapped for cash and gasoline is a big consideration in mobility, families – especially larger families and those with active lifestyles requiring larger and more capable, flexible vehicles – are demonstrating their preferences.
So it is, so as it always was.
Every time there’s an oil embargo or gasoline prices spike and stay at outrageously high levels for an extended period of time, consumers flock to small, fuel-efficient vehicles. With the advent of the Toyota Prius and subsequent hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and pure electric vehicles from other automakers, the move toward more environmentally-friendly cars gradually caught on.
When the pendulum swings the other way and gas is cheap, abundant and internal combustion engines more fuel-efficient, consumers revert to their first choice, which is often a full-size sedan, medium or large crossover or SUV, a minivan, or a capable pickup.
As the Wall Street Journal article points out, Prius sales in the U.S. are down 26 percent this year (through August).
A survey from Edmunds.com fielded in April 2016 found that American consumers are more likely to trade in a hybrid or electric vehicle to get an SUV than they are to opt for another hybrid or electric vehicle.
Speaking of California, the state remains the biggest market in the U.S. for the Prius. Still, at the largest-volume Toyota dealership in the U.S., Longo Toyota in El Monte, California, sales of the Prius are down 11 percent from last year.
Prius sales boomed when gas prices in California were $4/gallon. Now, the average price of gas in the state is $2.50/gallon.
Weak Market for Hybrids and Electrics Overall
But it’s not just the Toyota Prius where signs of slowing down are appearing. The Wall Street Journal article also makes the point that sales of the all-electric Nissan Leaf are off through August by 36 percent.
And the cheap gas prices don’t seem advantageous to the brand-new Chevrolet Bolt electric car coming out later this year.
The outlier is the Tesla. The all-electric performance vehicles from Elon Musk project an image that has nothing to do with cost. As Chris Redl, who runs the hedge fund Sienna Carnico Capital LLC told the Journal, “The people with money buy a Tesla.”