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Toyota courts those hard-to-reach millennials with hybrids

Toyota is billing the 2012 Prius c as the most fuel efficient car in Canada.

Bill Petro/Toyota

Toyota is billing the 2012 Prius c as the most fuel efficient car in Canada, and one it hopes will absolutely resonate with those hard-to-reach Generation Y buyers.

"A recent study has shown that almost 60 per cent of Gen Y believes that hybrids are proven and reliable and their choice for their next powertrain," says Toyota Canada's director of external affairs, Sandy Di Felice, adding that 40 per cent of new vehicle sales in the next 10 years are expected to come from the 90 million millennials out there.

Toyota, of course, is making the case for hybrids for many reasons; particularly because Toyota has more of them and has been refining the technology for longer than any other car company. The Prius c, at $20,950, is the third leg of the four-model stool that will make up the Prius hybrid brand before the end of this year.

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Let's see: there is the regular old Prius hatchback ($25,995), then the larger Prius v wagon ($27,200), now the Prius c and, coming near the end of this year, the plug-in Prius hybrid. Some of us recall a time when Toyota officials swore up and down there would not be a standalone Prius brand, and none was planned. Yet here we are, looking at what is, for all intents and purposes, a standalone Prius brand.

Toyota's case for hybrids goes like this. First, the company has sold more than three million Prius cars worldwide over the last decade and a half – and about 24,000 in Canada. This is a proven technology. Indeed, the Prius has consistently ranked as one of the most reliable cars on the market today.

Second, hybrids save a lot of fuel and they dramatically cut emissions. Toyota argues that a Prius, for instance, will use $1,150 in fuel a year at current prices, whereas a 2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid comes in with fuel costs of $1,488 a year. Compare that to the $2,268 you'll pay at the pump for a regular Ford Fusion in one year.

Third, we've become a nation of commuters, and hybrids are ideal for stop-and-go commuter traffic. Statistics Canada says as of 2005 – the most recent year for which commuter statistics are available – 25 per cent of Canadians were commuting 90-plus minutes a day. Now, in 2012, that number surely must be higher.

All this means that you will see Toyota Canada feverishly trying to push hybrids into the mainstream from the niche status they currently hold. Hybrids account for less than one per cent of new vehicle sales, so there is a big job ahead here. It's made even bigger now that so many car companies have moved aggressively to make good old internal combustion engines increasingly fuel efficient and much cleaner.

The Prius c is Toyota's best shot so far of making hybrids part of the general car-buying conversation. As Toyota Canada managing director Stephen Beatty points out, small cars represent 30 per cent of all new car sales in Canada and that's where the Prius c will compete "at an affordable price point."

The problem, of course, is that while it's possible to make the economic case for the Prius, buying one still asks for a fair chunk of up-front cash – thousands and thousands more than a gasoline-only subcompact car. For more on this topic, check out my review of the Prius c later in the week.

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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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