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America Is Changing In More Ways Than One: Toyota Prius Sales Are At A Five-Year Low

2016 Toyota Prius TouringIt’s an all-new version of a car that generally finds 140,000 U.S. buyers per year. But the Toyota Prius is quickly fading from the American mainstream.

There’s no doubt that hybrids, in a general sense, are struggling. Combined sales of hybrids and plug-in hybrids are down 6 percent in the United States this year, according to HybridCars.com.

But the Toyota Prius — the all-new, fourth-generation version of the sector’s progenitor —  is fading at double speed. Despite its newness and its vast objective improvements, Prius sales are down 12 percent this year.

And October was way, way, way worse than that. Much worse. 

Year-over-year, Prius sales in October tumbled 44 percent, undoubtedly hindered by a recall announced mid-month. Only 5,421 copies of the Toyota Prius were sold in the United States in October 2016. That was the lowest October figure for the Prius since 2003, a year before George W. Bush was elected the second time.

October 2016 represented the lowest-volume month for the Prius since June 2011, more than a year before Barack Obama was elected a second time, when the T�hoku earthquake and subsequent tsunami wreaked havoc on supply of Japan-built cars.2016_Toyota_Prius_032_C475F57FB73C22488071C4EA551C57C29546966D
It might get worse in November. The recall announced earlier in October, related to the possibility of an inoperative parking brake, transitioned into a stop-sale notice in the final days of October.

The level of competition certainly does the Prius no favors when examining the car’s performance in a historical context. In 2007, when Prius sales peaked, there was not a larger Prius and a smaller Prius, nor was there a new plug-in Prius waiting just around the corner. Indeed, plug-ins and pure electrics weren’t stealing 30 percent of the overall hybrid/electric market as they are now, either.

Times have changed. Buyers interested in green cars now have more options.

Fuel prices have changed, as well. In mid-2007, American car buyers were paying more than $4.00/gallon or regular fuel, roughly half that today. GasBuddy average U.S. fuel price chartFor the new Prius, the changing American automotive landscape is likewise all too apparent. Not only are there more competitors stealing the Prius’s old market share. Not only is it difficult for any vehicle in this category to make headway when fuel prices are so low. But the Prius is also a car in a market that’s now filling its belly on SUVs and crossovers. In October, Americans purchased and leased 60,000 more utility vehicles than cars.

Unfortunately for Toyota, the core Prius’s decline wasn’t even the worst in the Prius family in October. While resulting in far less lost volume, the aged Toyota Prius V wagon plunged 45 percent in October 2016; the subcompact Prius C slid 54 percent. Nor were the significant declines among Toyota hybrids connected only to the Prius family. HybridCars.com says Camry Hybrid sales slid 29 percent compared with October 2015, the Avalon Hybrid was down 32 percent, Highlander Hybrid sales slid 5 percent, the Lexus ES300h fell 61 percent, and the Lexus CT200h tumbled 48 percent.

The Toyota RAV4 Hybrid has become an important part of the increasingly popular RAV4 lineup, however, and Lexus crossover hybrid volume is on the rise, as well. And of course, Toyota light truck volume is soaring. Last month was the best-ever October for Toyota light truck sales, and it would likely have been better if supply wasn’t an issue.

But the Prius, the hybrid that got the green ball rolling at Toyota, is increasingly less consequential in Toyota showrooms. That’s true whether we’re discussing a month with or without quality issues.

A decade ago, the Prius accounted for 7 percent of the new vehicles sold by Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. That figure is down to 4 percent this year; just 3 percent in October.

So, can Toyota interest you in a Prius Prime?

[Images: Toyota, GasBuddy.com]

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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