Why the Toyota Prius rules the road despite 15 years of competition
This week marked the passing of a car that could have been a contender, as Honda announced that it would halt production on the Insight Hybrid. Though the Insight debuted in the U.S. in 1999, months ahead of the Toyota Prius, Honda sold fewer than 300,000 in the intervening 14 years, nearly half of those in Japan. For most of its existence, the Insight was a speck in the rearview mirror of the Prius, which has sold to more than 3 million owners in the same time.
The Insight was the only car on the market that seriously tried to challenge the Prius on its own turf, a hybrid designed as such. All the other manufacturers have futzed out, putting a hybrid drivetrain into an existing gasoline-powered model. The results have been unwieldy and mostly unpopular; the sole exception, Ford’s C-Max Hybrid, came to market a decade too late and is inferior to the Prius in every way that counts.
Ford Fusion — and in California, it was the top-selling car, period.When it comes to hybrids, the Prius stands alone; no other single vehicle so dominates its competition. In 2013, the three members of the Prius “family” outsold all other hybrids from all other manufacturers combined. The Prius liftback sold almost four times more than the top-selling hybrid from a company other than Toyota — the
But is building hybrids really so difficult that only Toyota can get it right?
Apparently so, though I don’t think it’s because Toyota employs engineering geniuses far and above the rest of the industry. Toyota is simply willing to evaluate the quality of their Prius cars through a different set of metrics. The usual standards don’t apply here. It’s not fast. Though it has a distinctive, even iconic, design, only its creator could find it truly beautiful. It lacks luxury amenities and has the offroad capability of a toy poodle. And, yes, it’s more than a little boring.
On the other hand, the Prius still, to this day, gets the best gas mileage of any non-electric consumer car — a combined 50 miles per gallon in federal ratings. Even if you drive wearing a metal boot (not recommended), you’re still going to get at least 45 mpg around town; a typical owner only has to fill up the 10-gallon gas tank a couple of times a month.
Just as importantly, the Prius lasts a long time. A good number of those original 1999-2000 cars are still around, and early fears of widespread expensive battery failure haven’t played out. Priuses are still running around on their original batteries after 100,000, or even 200,000, miles. There’s a reason why you see so many of them in cab fleets now. They’re easy and inexpensive to maintain.