Toyota’s Prius Keeps Upping the Ante But Faces Tough Competition

Source: Toyota

The Toyota Prius was a trailblazer in the electric vehicle and hybrid segments, and now it’s finding the road a little crowded.

Reports are surfacing regarding the newest Prius models — well, the redesign due out for 2016 — and the fourth generation looks to be as economical as ever. An article from Green Car Reports indicates that the redesign ushers in a sportier and more streamlined aesthetic for Toyota’s hybrid champion, which will surprise even those who already own older versions.

The next-generation Prius will reportedly be rated at 55 miles per gallon combined by the EPA, using a nickel-metal-hydride battery in the base model. There will be a lithium-ion option that can reach up to 60 miles per gallon combined, available on the Eco model. What we know about the next-generation Prius is that it will be available in two model trims. Well, we don’t know that for sure, so take these reports with a dose of skepticism.

What’s driving Toyota’s apparently different approach with the Prius, particularly in design, if these reports hold true? It may be the fact that the Prius is up against more competition than ever before. When the car first hit the market, there really wasn’t anything else like it. Toyota was definitely one of the first companies to take a very big risk in bringing hybrid vehicles to the mass market, and it has paid off in a big way. Do you think that companies like Tesla would have come about if the Prius would have been a failure? It’s possible, but it would have been a much tougher sell to both investors and consumers.

But as more manufacturers have added EVs and hybrids of their own, the Prius needs to step up its game if Toyota plans to maintain its market share in the segment.

Source: Toyota

The growing popularity of cars like the Nissan Leaf, Chevy Volt, and even diesel-powered vehicles from companies like Volkswagen all pose threats to the Prius’s domain, and it’s likely that Toyota is taking measures now to lessen the impact. The luxury market, in terms of EVs and hybrids, is already ensnared by the likes of Tesla, so Toyota needs to keep its focus on where it has been successful in the past — namely, the middle class.

Toyota also builds some of the most popular and best-selling petrol-powered cars of all time in the Corolla and Camry, and has so far held firmly onto the throne in the hybrid segment. But Honda, Nissan, and others are closing in fast. By taking a different approach to the Prius’s aesthetics and design, Toyota’s engineers and marketing teams may be trying to target drivers who are looking at sportier alternatives, like Honda’s Civic hybrid, or even some Volkswagen models that are able to get incredible gas mileage using diesel.

The Prius had been the best-selling car in California for a long stretch, until it was dethroned earlier this year by Honda’s Accord, according to reports from the International Business Times.

“The Prius is getting a little long in the tooth in its production cycle,” Jack Nerad, executive editorial director of Kelley Blue Book, told IBT.

He’s likely correct, and that’s why consumers are turning to other options. If reports hold true and a redesigned Prius is on the horizon for 2016, it could be a big boost in Toyota’s efforts into getting consumers excited again.