Market leader touts big sales for its broadened petrol-electric range, as overall market falls off a cliff. But will plummeting fuel prices change this trend?
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Toyota Australia’s move to broaden its petrol-electric hybrid range is paying off, with the company hitting a new high-water mark despite the ongoing drop in car sales as a whole.

Toyota has reported 7957 of its hybrid cars as sold this year, 166 per cent up over the first two months in 2019. Almost a quarter of cars sold by the company this year are hybrids.

The company claims that 62 per cent of RAV4s and 61 per cent of Camrys sold in February were the hybrid versions, while the Corolla's tally was a nearly-as-impressive 52 per cent. This trio were also all among the top 10 most popular vehicles overall; sitting second, ninth and fourth respectively.

For more context, more than 2000 RAV4 hybrids were sold, which means that even without any non-hybird sales counted it was still the nation's most popular SUV of any size.

This cumulative figure puts the company ahead of its target of 40,000 overall hybrid sales in 2020, equal to around a third of passenger and SUV sales, and 20 per cent of its grand total.

By 2025 it promises a hybrid version of all products, even the LandCruiser and HiLux. This year it will add the Yaris hybrid but axe the similarly-sized Prius C. Expect a hybrid Kluger in 2021, though production delays out of the US plant mean this timing is far from certain.

Another way to look at it is that if Toyota Hybrid was a stand-alone franchise, it would now rank seventh in the market overall, ahead of Nissan, Volkswagen and Honda.

Toyota Australia's vice-president of sales and marketing Sean Hanley said demand for hybrids was “accelerating faster than expected”, resulting in the company lifting its 2020 target.

He claims that online searches for ‘Toyota hybrid’ have doubled over the last 12 months, along with “a similar uptick” in unique visits to specific Toyota Australia ‘Hybrid’ pages.

The biggest impediment to further sales seems to be supply. There are said to be few issues on the hybrid Corolla, Prius, Prius V, and C-HR, but the company is struggling to get sufficient stock on Camry and RAV4.

Wait times for the RAV4 Cruiser Hybrid last year were out past eight months, although the company has since secured more stock to get that number down.

It now offers a rough likely waiting time of between 4-6 months, though every dealer is in a different position and some will have stock on hand sooner.

"We successfully negotiated additional shipments of hybrid vehicles that will arrive throughout 2020, but even these higher supplies are under pressure due to the unprecedented popularity,” Hanley said.

“... It means that delivery times for some variants will not improve as quickly as we had anticipated. While this is clearly not desirable, we will keep negotiating for an even greater share of global production.

“We'll continue to keep our customers updated through our dealers.”

Broadly speaking, Toyota’s hybrid models command a price premium over their regular petrol equivalents of between $1500 and $2500, use 30-40 per cent less petrol, and cost the same to have serviced.

Some back of envelope numbers on the RAV4 Cruiser show that the hybrid uses a claimed 4.8 litres of 91 RON fuel per 100km, 1.7L/100km less than the non-hybrid. It also costs $2509 more drive-away.

At a fuel price of $1.50 per litre, you’re saving $2.55 every 100km travelled, $25.50 every 1000km travelled, $255.50 every 10,000km, and have recouped the price difference in just under 100,000km.

Of course, with fuel prices plummeting on the back of oil price declines - the ABC has just reported the bowser price may get down towards $1 per litre - the pure economics might become less favourable, at least temporarily.

However, it’s worth noting that Toyota Australia claims the 28,000 hybrids it sold in 2019 also saved 20,000 tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere.

On a side note, last time we spoke with Hanley we pressed him on when we’d see full-electric vehicles from Toyota in Australia, given its dominant position as the overall market leader by some margin.

“Toyota knows that we’ve got to get to zero emissions in the future, no-one is debating that actually,” Hanley said.

“... My question to everybody is, in a practical, non-emotional, but sensible way, why do people think that electric vehicles are going to come to the market and take over in the next two years? It’s taken 19 years for hybrid to get traction in the Australian market.

“Having said that, I don’t think it’s going to take 20 years for electrification to get traction in the future, I think that will speed up for sure.

“We’re working towards getting there fairly quickly. But my question is this: yes, we have got to get to zero emissions in the future, that is true. That is not debatable. And we’re going to go there eventually.

“However to get there, who on earth is going to buy a Corolla-sized car, fully electric, for $55,000, in masses? … There's no use bringing all-electric vehicles out that people can't afford, because people are still going to want mobility, today.”

Figures sourced from the Electric Vehicle Council show 6718 fully electric (EV) and plug-in hybrid (PHEV) cars were sold in Australia in 2019, more than triple the 2216 sold over the preceding 12 months. Toyota has nothing in this space locally.

Top-selling models February 2020