The Prius has cemented itself as one of the world’s favorite cars, having been on the market for more than a decade and pioneering the hybrid and electric vehicle markets. Although it’s not popular everywhere, it is in urban centers and large cities, and among people who generally are looking to get more bang for their buck when owning a vehicle.
As the Prius looks to enter its fourth generation in 2016, Toyota and its Prius are facing some stiff competition. These aren’t the easy days (if you could call them that) of the early 2000s, when the only thing Toyota was up against was the Honda Insight and some consumer skepticism surrounding EVs and hybrids. No, today, Toyota’s competitors — all of them, really — have affordable hybrid options of their own, and consumers are taking notice. This marks the first time that the Prius has really faced challenges from all sides.
So what is Toyota to do?
The reported redesign coming for 2016 is certainly a start, but we still don’t have any concrete word from Toyota as to what exactly that will entail. The truth is, to keep its market share and continue to impress consumers, the Prius will need to make some rather radical changes.
Here are five suggestions as to what Toyota can do to keep the Prius on top of the EV and hybrid segment.
1. A Design Upgrade
Let’s face it, the Prius’s design has really stagnated. When it first hit the scene in the early 2000s, it was bold and fresh — not many cars that looked like the Prius existed back then. But today? Well, the frumpy hatchback design has gotten old, and consumers want sleeker, sexier, and sportier vehicles. That’s apparently what Toyota is considering for the next generation, thankfully. Reports indicate a sportier model is in the works that will be available in a couple of different variants. A fresh redesign could do wonders in the eyes of consumers, and that one change alone could make a huge difference.
2. A Performance-Oriented Option
Sounds crazy, right? But if there’s one way to raise some eyebrows and possibly even give some luxury and sports car makers a run for their money, it’s by offering a performance-oriented hybrid sedan. There have been experiments before with more consumer-centric vehicles being offered in performance variants — Chevy did it with the Cobalt SS, and even Nissan even allowed the Juke R to happen, so it’s not like this is completely out of the box. As far as the details, that would be left up to Toyota. But it would be fun and interesting to see what the company could come up with. For anyone who says a performance hybrid can’t happen, look at the Ferrari LaFerrari, McLaren P1, or the Porsche 918. Nissan even has a racing version of the Leaf.
3. Improve the Plug-In Model’s Range
The Prius Plug-In was a welcome addition to the family and gave consumers another option to consider when checking out hybrids and EVs. The only thing is, the Plug-In model doesn’t really “wow” drivers. It can get an EPA estimated 95 MPGe and 50 miles per gallon in hybrid mode. Both of those numbers are great, but it only has a range of 11 miles in electric-only mode and tops out at 62 miles per hour. For comparison, Ford’s C-Max Energi can offer about 20 miles on all-electric power, and the Chevrolet Volt can offer close to 40. If Toyota can do better, it will make for a much more competitive plug-in model.
4. Bring Back the Sedan Option
When the Prius was first introduced, it was available as a sedan, with a trunk and everything, as seen above. That was done away with in 2004, and the lift-back style took over from there. A suggestion? Bring back the sedan variant. There are likely consumers out there who like the Prius for what it is but hate the aesthetics. By giving them another option — one that looks more like a traditional sedan — it could provide Toyota another angle of attack. Honda’s been finding a fan base of its own with its Civic and Accord hybrids, which have similar (if not identical) looks to their petrol-powered counterparts. Toyota may be able to flip some of those customers with a traditional sedan-style Prius.
5. Pursue Other Demographics
It’s simple, really: Toyota needs to find a way to make the kids think the Prius is cool. No doubt, some already do. But thus far, the Prius has really been marketed toward families or middle-age commuters, to say nothing of the environmentalist crowd. How about expanding on that? Offer a sleeker design and some new model variants. The millennial generation in particular is already more environmentally aware than their parents ever were, so why not try to capitalize on that? By reaching out past the traditional demographics typically pursued by the Prius, more customers could easily be found.