Low Gas Prices & Increased Competition Cutting Into Sales
It would be a stretch to say Prius, the most popular car in California, is running out of gas. After all, Toyota still expects to sell almost a quarter of a million Prius models in the U.S. this year. That will likely make Prius one of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in the U.S. in 2013. So this is not a dog car.
However, the Prius is no longer the red-hot model it was back in 2007 and 2008, when it generated so much buzz dealers had waiting lists that stretched out for months as buyers paid well over sticker price for the hybrid.
What Has changed?
Gas prices and competition. Right now, there are 38 different hybrid models being sold in the U.S., including four versions of the Prius. For car buyers, there are simply more options when it comes to hybrids.
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"Toyota needs to work harder to differentiate the Prius from the competition," said Caldwell.
Meanwhile, moderate gas prices mean there's less of a clamor in the market for hybrid vehicles. Yes, hybrid sales are still growing faster than industry sales, but with gas under $3 a gallon there's no frenzy for ultra fuel efficient cars.
New Marketing, New Prius Push
Toyota executives are well aware the Prius may be entering a more mature part of its growth cycle. It is now like any other model, a vehicle that will require marketing support and ad campaigns to keep sales moving. In fact, this month Toyota will roll out a new ad campaign specifically centered around the Prius.
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"We've been focused on other, new models we've launched this year," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division General Manager. "May was a really good month for Prius and our plan is to keep that momentum through the summer."
Fay noted he's confident Prius sales can grow in the second half of the year and Toyota's hybrid could post positive sales by the end of the year.
Still Quirky Enough to Make a Statement
There's one other factor that could be playing a role in the slowdown of Prius sales. Is this car still quirky enough to be cool? When the Prius first came out, its unique look was one reason many people bought the car. It was a way to make a statement. Those days are gone.
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