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Toyota made history in 1997 when it introduced the Prius as the first-ever mass-produced passenger vehicle to feature a hybrid drivetrain. By 2012, U.S. sales of the Toyota Prius reached their pinnacle, at 236,655 total units. Historically, spring is the best season for the Prius in the U.S., but the total number of sales has continued to drop year over year, with 42% fewer sales for the first four months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022. Is the rising popularity of electric cars partially to blame?

The Prius Prime takes a very thin oil. You won't guess how much it costs
2023 Prius Prime | Toyota

Are Toyota Prius sales slipping, or is the spring 2023 slump an anomaly?

Looking at data provided by GoodCarBadCar, it is readily apparent that U.S. numbers for the once-popular Toyota Prius lineup are falling. For example, after 2012, when Prius sales reached 236,655 units, figures dropped to around 234,000 and 207,000 for the following two years. Moreover, the numbers continued falling over the last decade, dropping to 87,590 in 2018 and 33,352 last year. 

Why are the numbers falling?

There are two fundamental causes for selling fewer products, either production fails to keep up with consumer demand, or consumers demand lower numbers of the product.

While the Covid pandemic played havoc on automotive supply chains—the well-documented microchip shortage is one example—Prius sales slide began before the pandemic, picking up momentum over the last decade. So why aren’t consumers picking up new and improved Prius models?

From its inception, Toyota engineers and designers focused on the Prius hybrid drivetrain’s ability to get the most out of every drop of fuel. To that end, they conceded any attempt at developing an attractive exterior style or luxurious interior amenities, focusing instead on aerodynamics and function. As a result, for its first 15 years on the market, the Toyota Prius exemplified sacrifice for the good of the planet. 

Until relatively recently, Toyota’s ground-breaking Prius had little competition as a hybrid passenger car. Then, as other automakers caught up and began delivering more attractive hybrid drivetrain Prius alternatives, fuel-efficiency-conscious consumers had other options.

Over the last few years, improved EV options continued providing the environmentally-conscious, fuel-saving, and cutting-edge-of-technology car crowd with even more reasons to abandon the Prius family of hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars. 

Are EVs responsible for the decline in the Toyota Prius’s popularity?

While increasing EV popularity represents one reason for declining Toyota Prius popularity, the data indicates that other hybrid and non-hybrid models increased in sales during the first four months of 2023.

The Prius may have run its course since it emerged as the quirky leader of the hybrid passenger car movement, placing it in a spotlight that caused people to love or hate it. Although the 2023 redesign improves the Prius in nearly every way, Car and Driver reports Toyota is expecting little growth. 

Theorizing that increasing EV popularity caused Prius’s popularity to drop is plausible given their shared ideal-customer groups. Both groups value the perceived environmental friendliness of thrifty unique looking vehicles. However, the cars with the highest increases in the first four months of 2023 compared to that period in 2022 are neither EVs nor exclusively hybrids. 


Toyota Prius: A History of the Ugly Duckling of Hybrid Cars