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Reasons Why The Prius Continues To Shine In The Hybrid Race

How familiar are you with a Toyota Prius over any of the other hybrids on the market?  Better question, if you could do your own poll, what would your ratio be of Prius vs. LEAF vs. Volt or other conventional models with a hybrid twist to them?  Yet, however the test's done, odds are you've seen at least a couple Prius cars pass you by on the streets and highways while you commute to work every day.  Some cities more than others. 

Whatever the case, it shouldn't come as too much of a shock that when you think hybrid vehicles, you may assume “Prius”.  And there are a number of reasons for that, some obvious and some more on the statistical side of things.  

But, first thing's first: this isn't an editorial saying you should run out and buy up the first Prius you see over another, because there are many other quality hybrids on par with the Prius - and in some cases, surpass on a performance level – that are out there on the market.  

This is just a brief list of reasons why the Prius seems to have had more influence.

It Was Only Pitted Against The Insight At First 

There's no need to do a “tortoise vs. the hare” analogy, because if anything, any hybrid vehicle model released before 2000 – even if there was a competitor – would automatically be the “tortoise” based on consumers not having any clue as to their existence or uniqueness over conventional cars.  Right at the cusp of the new millennium, Honda was the first automaker to unveil their hybrid in 1999, a la the Insight.  

That inaugural model wowed most people with the MPG listing of 70 city / 70 hwy, even if it only churned out 73 hp.  Considering the closest conventional gas-powered car's MPG didn't come close to that number, it was a wake-up call to future automakers and the MPG arms race.   And the following year, Toyota took notice and unveiled the 1st generation Prius with a EPA estimated 52 city / 45 highway.  And while the MPG wasn't superior to the Insight, the exterior aesthetics were much more glamorous. 

And with low competition, the Prius (6,500 models sold) edged out the Insight (3,788 models sold) in total sales overseas.  Even with both Toyota and Honda having rather exemplary traditions of reliability behind their vehicles, I still think the body type and design of the Prius had a little more of a hand with the increased sales figures. 

Timely Entrance And Pricing 

Most every automaker is great at branding their line, and in the case of gradually implementing hybrid technology to some of their more familiar models, they've succeeded on that front.  But, the Prius had a sizable lead on other hybrids, and more importantly, it kept growing on most American minds when gas prices and fuel economy became more of an issue.  Car buyers began to understand the benefits of driving a hybrid both with fuel economy and the appealing price point.  

Here's a chart detailing the Prius timeline on base model prices and MPG averages:


Model Year

MSRP $ (est.)




52 city / 45 hwy



52 city / 45 hwy



52 city / 45 hwy



60 city / 51 hwy



60 city / 51 hwy



60 city / 51 hwy



60 city / 51 hwy



48 city / 45 hwy



48 city / 45 hwy



51 city / 48 hwy



51 city / 48 hwy



51 city / 48 hwy


While the fluctuation of prices was minimal at best, the fuel economy numbers wavered a bit as the years went on, but then again, it was more in line to make up for increased horsepower and other features such as design, drivetrain and such. 

Updates and Model Trims 

An obvious pathway to popularity is giving consumers options.  And not just about going from base to limited edition to sporty edition.  By molding the Prius line into 4 separate entities, hybrid enthusiasts would have a better way to gauge which fits their interests and budget.  

There's the original Prius model that began Toyota's foray into the green initiative.  Then there's the Prius v which has a few more bells and whistles under the hood, but is more noticeable with better cargo room.  Prius c helps accommodate the craze of smaller, more compact cars.  And the Prius plug-in  is more versatile with it's EV tendencies and offers the best fuel economy of all 4 trims. 

Having variety – and putting the same craftsmanship behind each option – helps make the next point (total sales figures) all the more easy to divulge. 

Has Comfortable Sales Reach Across The U.S. 

Recent reports hinted at the Prius' record-breaking sales for hybrid vehicles, with nearly 700,000 units moved worldwide.  Considering that a paltry 6,500 models were rolled out in its inaugural year in the U.S., the popularity increase is definitely a positive light for not just the Prius, but the state of hybrid vehicles in general.  

Plug-in vehicles in general have been given a very optimistic future on the driving landscape.  According to Pike Research, they've indicated there are numerous signs that long-term growth for EV and hybrid vehicles is on the horizon.  Also, the U.S. market will be seen as the most influential in the global plug-in popularity.  It's already outranking other global markets in 2012, with an expected 48,000 plug-in vehicles to be shipped.  As the author points out, the Nissan LEAF is a big reason for the demand rising because of their groundbreaking approach to the electric vehicles.  Yet, as sales figures have shown, the Prius and other competitive hybrid vehicles on the market may indeed show better results to the LEAF ten years from now.  Or the LEAF could become just as competitive and put a better spin towards the hybrid audience.  Either way, it's a win-win for the global green driving initiative. 

Author Bio:  Freelance contributor who's frequently covered the automotive industry, specifically on the green initiative with automakers and the goal to lessen the carbon footprint, and has consulted for Jay Wolfe Toyota of KC, a local dealer in his hometown, where a host of Prius vehicles make their presence known.