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Prius sales soar as it becomes the third best-selling line in the world

Toyota is selling boatloads of Prius family cars – not because the world wants to go green, necessarily, but because the company can now make the economic case for at least one, if not more, of the vehicles in the line.

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Automotive News is reporting that sales of vehicles in the "Prius family" soared around the world in the first quarter, and that held true in Canada, too.

Around the globe, Toyota sold 247,230 Prius family vehicles. Keep in mind the family part. In Canada, the family includes the Prius v wagon, the Prius c subcompact car and the regular old Prius, too. A plug-in hybrid Prius is coming later this year.

The sales numbers for all things Prius are impressive. Indeed, Automotive News says Prius is now the third best-selling line in the world, behind the Toyota Corolla (300,800) and Ford Focus (277,000).

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As for Canada, of the 18,732 Toyota, Lexus and Scion vehicles sold last month, more than 10 per cent (1,931) were hybrids and three-quarters of them were in the Prius family (1,422). The big winner has been the sub-$22,000 Prius c (556 sold). Toyota also points out that the Prius c accounted for one-third of all its Canadian subcompact sales.

Remember, in all of 2001, Toyota Canada sold a paltry 418 Prius hatchbacks.

"It proves Prius wasn't a fluke, that there's a long-term market for hybrids," Eric Noble, president of The Car Lab, an automotive consultancy in Orange, Calif., told Automotive News.

Perhaps. But I think Prius sales have picked up significantly primarily because the company can now make a reasonable economic case for the dual power train car. Almost. Toyota Canada is pitching the 2012 Prius c hybrid ($20,950 base) as a slightly premium "green" car – one with a price premium that comes very close to being recovered in savings at the fuel pump.

As I reported a few weeks ago, the federal government's fuel consumption guide calculates that the Prius c will use $6,216 in fuel over eight years ($777 a year) versus $10,416 for the Yaris ($1,302 a year). The difference: $4,200 saved by driving the Prius c.

So fuel savings, combined with the long list of standard equipment, makes the economic case for the Prius c. That is, compared to say a Yaris four-door hatch ($14,400 base); the Prius c is a reasonable purchase strictly on price alone.

If Canadians also received the same hybrid rebate offered in Japan, the Prius c might even become a runaway best seller here. As Automotive News notes, rebates of as much as $1,258 (U.S.) are offered in Japan for vehicles like those in the Prius family.

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I think it's pretty clear that Toyota is selling boatloads of Prius family cars – not because the world wants to go green, necessarily, but because the company can now make the economic case for at least one, if not more, of the vehicles in the line. But a final question: At these prices, is Toyota making money on Prius family cars?

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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