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Toyota Prius Owners Jump Ship, Head Over to Tesla

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【Summary】Toyota has an overall defection rate of approximately 9 percent—and half of those consumers are Prius owners going to Tesla.

Mia Bevacqua    Feb 01, 2019 9:03 AM PT
Toyota Prius Owners Jump Ship, Head Over to Tesla

The Toyota Prius – the first mass-produced hybrid and one of the best-selling electrified vehicles of all time – is losing its grip. Tesla has slowly been chipping away at sales of the famous (or some say infamous) liftback. 

According to Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America, Toyota has an overall defection rate of approximately 9% and half of those leaving the company are Prius owners migrating to Tesla.

Sales of the trailblazing Toyota Prius are on the decline

Few nameplates are better known than the Toyota Prius. The revolutionary hybrid, which has a series-parallel powertrain layout with two electric motors and a gas engine, made its worldwide debut in 1997. Sales flourished until 2007; then gradually started to decline.

Now, despite the fact a revamped 2019 Prius with a new e-all-wheel drive system is due, the trailblazing hybrid is struggling to hold on. According to a December article posted by CNBC, Prius sales have been declining for years and were down 23.2% for the first 11 months for 2018.

There are several reasons for the drop off – one being the RAV4 Hybrid. Consumers now gravitate towards SUVs and the RAV4 is Toyota's best-selling vehicle.

And, of course, there are those consumers who are ditching the sensible Prius in exchange for a racy new Tesla Model 3.

Toyota, however, is holding out hope the revised 2019 Prius will breathe new life into the legendary hatchback. The new model will pack an abundance of new technology to draw buyers in.

"They like [technology] advancement, they like state-of-the-art," Dan Abel, chairman of the Toyota National Dealer Council, says of the upcoming Prius. "That vehicle has that, and those are things that draw customers to continue to purchase the vehicle. Then, you add in that new e-all-wheel-drive system, and it makes it even better."

Tesla continues to a take a bigger piece of the pie

Tesla's earnings weren't as high as anticipated for the fourth-quarter of 2018. But the automaker's sales are still up – and the Model 3 is dominating its segment. During last year's fourth quarter, 63,359 Model 3 cars are said to have been delivered. And that number will likely rise now that production has ramped up.

Overall, Elon Musk and the Tesla team are expecting things to go their way. "I'm optimistic about (Tesla) being profitable in Q1, and for all quarters going forward," Musk said. In-house forecasts also anticipate 360,000 to 400,000 Tesla vehicles will be sold in 2019.

Are hybrids giving way to EVs?

With the ever-popular Toyota Prius losing ground to Tesla, could it be the overall trend is a shift away from hybrids towards full EVs? Since pure-electrics are improving and getting a greater range (the Model 3 has a range of 310 miles), there may be less of an incentive to drag an internal combustion engine around. EV infrastructure is improving, too, making it easier to juice up on the go.

Right now, the closest thing Toyota has to a production EV is the Prius Prime Plug-in (and the Mirai fuel cell) . Perhaps it's time the Japanese automaker got a pure-electric out on the road.   

Sources: Automotive News, CNBC,  Mercury News 

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