To most people, the word “Prius” is shorthand for hybrid cars in general, sort of like how the “Band-Aid” brand name is used to describe pretty much any sticky bandage. But it appears as though the Toyota Prius’s dominance of hybrid culture, such as it is, may be coming to an end. That’s because Toyota just revealed its 2019 sales figures, and the Prius no longer is the automaker’s top-selling hybrid. So, what is?
Why, the RAV4 hybrid, the gas-electric version of Toyota’s RAV4 compact crossover. Perhaps it isn’t surprising that the RAV4 hybrid overtook the Prius in sales—the RAV4 nameplate is the best-selling non-truck in America, so even if the hybrid model made up only a small percentage of its overall sales, we’re talking about a chunk of a big number. Stir in the RAV4 having just been totally redesigned for 2019, the Prius receiving only a mild update (and newly optional all-wheel drive), and the RAV4’s not-weird styling, and, well, sorry Prius.
Toyota says it sold a stunning 92,595 RAV4 hybrids last year, compared to 69,718 Priuses. (A whopping 448,071 regular RAV4s found homes in 2019.) While the RAV4 hybrid sales are, yes, up, Prius sales are down from 87,590 in 2018. Blame cheap gas and customers’ rush to adopt crossovers and SUVs, a trend that affects hybrids as much, it seems, as it does the rest of the automotive industry. Another factor behind the RAV4 hybrid’s sales surge? That the latest model is EPA-rated for 40 mpg combined, a huge improvement over its predecessor’s 32-mpg rating. It is probably safe to assume that many buyers see the RAV4 hybrid’s 40-mpg number and rationalize that it’s close enough to the Prius’s 50-56 mpg, depending on trim, while the rest of the RAV4’s taller, roomier package suits their needs better. In fact, a number of recently introduced hybrids from a variety of manufacturers have begun inching closer to or matching the Prius’s fuel economy, including the larger and better-to-drive Honda Accord Hybrid (48 mpg combined), as well as the similarly sized but more premium-feeling Honda Insight (52 mpg combined). Hyundai’s Prius fighter, the Ioniq hybrid, even beats the Toyota with a 58-mpg combined rating (although its sales are a fraction of the Prius’s).
Until gas prices shoot up—not an impossibility with given the day’s geopolitical developments with Iran—the Prius is likely to continue fading while more compelling, similarly efficient hybrid alternatives budge their way to the front of the sales line. One thing’s nearly for sure, however: We doubt people will begin referring to hybrids as “RAV4s,” sales be damned.