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Friday, June 12, 2020

Prius vs Model 3

The Toyota Prius was a landmark vehicle. At its introduction, it was the biggest advancement in car tech in decades. Worldwide sales of the Prius passed the 1 million milestone in May 2008, jumped the 2 million mark in September 2010, and reached 3 million in June 2013. It was selling well, it was a halo brand for Toyota and branched off many variants: Prius V, Prius C, Prius-Plug-In, and most recently Prius Prime.

Hybrid Technology Never Crossed the Chasm

Prius was the flagbearer hybrid brand in the industry. A hybrid vehicle from any manufacturer was compared to the industry benchmark, Prius. Toyota put hybrid tech into many of their other vehicles too including Lexus brands for a total of 44 different hybrid models sold around the globe.

As I write this in 2020, Toyota has sold over 15 million hybrid electric vehicles. Despite this success, hybrid vehicles have remained a niche product. Hybrid tech has a loyal following, but it has not crossed the chasm to become mainstream.

Will EVs Suffer The Same Fate?

This made me wonder if EVs would suffer the same fate of being relegated to a niche market. As one (far from conclusive) indicator, I decided to compare the sales of the flagship EV (Tesla Model 3) to sales of the flagship hybrid (Toyota Prius). 

Model 3 has been on sale for 11 quarters now, so we put the first 11 quarters of cumulative Prius sales next to the first 11 quarters of cumulative Model 3 sales. Here's that chart:

As you can see, during this time window, Model 3 is selling significantly better than Prius had. This does not guarantee that EVs will go mainstream, but it looks like the technology has a shot and, as we wrote here, and this could be the decade that it happens.

In the final quarter of Model 3 sales, Model Y was included in the date. I would have preferred to have just Model 3, but Tesla lumped Model Y and Model 3 sales together in their Q1 2020 report. Although, Model Y sales have just begun their production ramp, so their volume is not yet significant.

I thought it was important to make this comparison now, since I expect Q2 2020 numbers to be skewed by the pandemic (for Tesla, the rest of the auto industry, and most of the economy).

Will EVs go mainstream? Magic 8-Ball says 'Signs Point To Yes!'



  1. I'm not sure this is really fair comparison. The first generation Prius was a sedan only available in Japan (1997-2003) during this time period. The second generation with the familiar hatchback (liftback) design debuted in 2004 and that's when sales took off. It was on back-order for years.

    1. Thanks R, We had one of the first Prius' in the US. We took delivery in Sept. 2000. It was a NHW11 model year 2000 (https://www.carswithcords.net/2017/10/10-years-of-ev-driving-part-1-i-want-ev1.html). The NHW10 (1997-1999 was Japan only). I think comparing them during their initial production ramp is the fair way to look at them. Both companies had to decide how many to produce, when to export... But comparing 2004+ for Prius would be interesting too, it would give Toyota a big advantage since that would mean they had been making some version of the car for 7+ years. I'll look into a follow up on this.

  2. I feel it is inevitable that electrification takes off; Pandora's box has been opened. There is also so much research now focused in this area, these vehicles (especially drive-train and battery) are only going to get better at a faster rate. It seems not a month goes by without some fairly significant advancement. That said, the market for HEV and PHEV vehicles in 2020 is much richer than it was in 2000, where Toyota basically had the market to themselves, at least here in the US. Per the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, there were roughly 485K of these vehicles sold in 2019. https://www.bts.gov/content/gasoline-hybrid-and-electric-vehicle-sales. And for better or worse, advancements in the ICE have not stopped either, with real world thermal efficiencies coming in at over 40% for a broad operating range. I fully agree that this only delays the inevitable - but I can't see how we won't be selling ICE cars in 2030 at this rate.

    But great read and write-up Pat!

    1. Thanks Kevin. Well said. I like the Pandora's Box analogy. Portable electronics will be one factor driving battery advancement. We'll see what happens by 2030.

  3. In nations that signed the Paris accord, it may not only be prohibitively expensive to buy ICE past 2030, it some, it may even be illegal.

    1. Good point Jay. These types of governmental actions will certainly accelerate the transition to EVs.