Toyota Prius – It’s the Shape, Stupid!
I’m a fan of hybrids. The idea of using a cleaner electric motor to assist the most inefficient stage of a combustion engine’s range makes great sense. The fact that Toyota is pursuing the technology with such vigor lends give it even more credibility to me. After all, Toyota does not have a history of making huge strategic errors.
The part that still bugs me is the economics. We all know that fuel savings alone will not justify the purchase of a hybrid vehicle. Even with tax credits, we’ve seen estimates of six years to recoup the cost of the hybrid powertrain. Yet one model, the Toyota Prius, continues to be a hot seller in the marketplace. Even used Prius’ (Priui?) are commanding high resale prices. Residual values continue to remain high on a vehicle that cannot prove it creates the fuel savings worth the premium charged by Toyota (and it’s dealer network, no doubt).
Why are Prius values, both new and used, so far ahead of other hybrids, including, Ford’s Escape, Honda’s Civic and Even Toyota’s Highlander? In a word, popularity and its at-a-glance identifiability. The Prius is the only hybrid that is offered in only one bodystyle. Its styling is head-turning. When a buyer drives down the street in a Prius, everyone knows it’s a hybrid. The statement is clearly made, “I can afford a hybrid Prius just like a celebrity.” No other hybrid vehicle, including the Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX 400h, offers this immediate cachet.
The real test for hybrid engines will come when Toyota offers it on the full lineup. Only then will be see if the powertrain option can stand on it’s own.