The Japanese car maker has sold about 2.5 million Toyota Prius models globally over the hybrid’s 15-year lifetime, though the alternative drivetrain continues to struggle in a number of markets, including Australia.
The technology still remains more popular with government and fleet purchasers than private buyers, by a ratio of nearly three to one.
Hybrid sales locally are still low compared with petrol- and diesel-powered passenger cars. Last year in the private buyer market, 2212 hybrid-powered passenger cars were sold compared with 285,026 petrol cars and 19,908 diesels.
Sales of the Prius also halved in 2011, dropping to 822 for the year.
Toyota Australia says it believes Gen Y, the offspring of baby boomers, are about to emerge as the cashed-up, tech-savvy car buyers who will turn the tables in the favour of hybrids.
“Our local research has shown that, apart from the innovators and early adoptors who embarace hybrids, it is younger people – particularly Gen Y – who really understand hybrid technology and appreciate its benefits,” says Peter McGregor, Toyota Australia’s divisional manager.
“They tend to view hybrid technology as proven and reliable, and they’re generally willing to pay extra to get the fuel-saving benefits.
Toyota says Gen Y comprises more than 20 per cent of the Australian population and is predicted to account for 40 per cent of new-car sales within a decade.
Its own research is backed by findings by Deloitte in China, Europe and US, according to Toyota, where 59 per cent of Gen Y respondents said electrified vehicles were their preference – with only two per cent of that figure specifically for electric battery vehicles only.
Toyota Australia’s McGregor also says a raft of new hybrid vehicles launched this year will kickstart a sales turnaround.
“I think you can realistically see hybrid volume increase this year,” says McGregor, “with the activities Toyota has put in place with a facelifted Prius, all-new Prius C and Prius V to come in a couple of months [May], and of course the new Camry Hybrid.
“We’re pretty much on that tipping point…
“[We] acknowledge it has been a little longer coming from what had originally hoped for and we had anticipated, but in true Toyota spirit we don’t give up.
“I think one of the reasons why hybrid has not fulfilled its destiny is that we have almost been a lone voice in the market with hybrid technology.
“With some of the motor shows around the world we’ve [seen] some of our competitors are announcing significant hybrid initiatives which giving the openness and competitiveness of our market will certainly flow into our market and when that happens the tipping point will come much more quickly.”
Toyota expects its new, smaller hybrid, the Prius C, to boost sales, launching this week with a $23,990 starting price to become the country’s most affordable hybrid.
It undercuts the previous hybrid price benchmark, the $29,990 Honda Insight, by $6000.