Toyota may be rethinking its Prius model lineup strategy

Just a short while ago, when a gallon of gas cost $3.50, Toyota thought its Prius brand would be its volume sales leader. It decided to expand the lineup from just the original liftback to include a smaller Prius C, a plug-in hybrid version of the liftback, and a larger version that was almost big enough to rank as a crossover SUV, the Prius V.

But things have changed. Gasoline now costs less than half what it did a few short years ago. As a result, Prius sales are going down rather than up. That has officials at Toyota rethinking their Prius model lineup strategy.

“Given all the changes in consumers’ preferences right now, I don’t think we’re forecasting the Prius [family] to be our top volume seller anymore,” said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager.

Part of the discussion centers on the new RAV4 hybrid. While not as fuel efficient as the Prius, it does have all wheel drive, it is as big as the Prius V, and it is priced just $700 more than a conventional RAV4.

“We’ll have to see how well the RAV4 Hybrid does,” Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota North America tells Automotive News. “Because the RAV4 could really take the place of the Prius V.”

Bill Fay says the company has not decided whether to update the Prius C and Prius V. Both cars were introduced fairly recently. The plug-in hybrid Prius was taken off the market last summer. There is no word on whether it will reappear in the lineup and if so, when.

Nevertheless, Toyota says it is happy with how the Prius family of cars has preformed. It has become a household name and is synonymous with “fuel efficient.” That has helped burnish the Toyota brand in ways that cannot be quantified in terms of just dollars and cents.