OPINION: Imagine my surprise at seeing the new-generation Toyota Prius when it was revealed this week.
The world’s biggest car company fretted over how to reinvent its hybrid icon in an era defined by full-electric vehicles, settling on giving it some newfound panache.
It looks great – sleek, stylish and entirely unlike what we’ve come to expect from Toyota’s longstanding eco leader. A new lease on life, as it were.
The old model was all creases and weird proportions, while multiple earlier generations were perhaps less awkward but also more boring, which is worse.
And yet it’s this latest version, which has me all starry-eyed, that will be the first Prius Toyota won’t sell in Australia.
In making this decision, it took the wrong lesson from the old model’s failure to resonate, and pulled the pin at precisely the wrong time.
It’s true that Prius sales plummeted of late, prompting its early demise. Toyota has long maintained it played its role: proving the worth of petrol-electric drivelines before they proliferated into Corollas, RAV4s, Camrys and Klugers.
Today a majority of Toyota’s passenger cars and crossovers sold in Australia are hybrids, which to Toyota’s way of thinking evidently means the Prius is no longer required.
But I’d argue this is actually all the more reason to bring the Prius back, to reinvent a badge with dwindling cachet. Time to cash in on all that hard work, right?
Plus it doesn’t matter if other hybrids with Toyota badges outsell it. That’s the purpose of a brand-leader. I’d have thought a company so proficient at advertising would understand the value of this.
Toyota Australia isn’t afraid of niche offerings, particularly with its GR family of sports cars. So why has it binned the Prius just as it becomes interesting again?
Not just that, but this one doesn’t appear to be a mere fuel-sipper, with behind-the-wheel pleasures limited to hypermiling.
The new 2.0-litre parallel hybrid has a total output of 144kW – well up over the outgoing model’s 90kW 1.8-litre.
Then there’s the plug-in hybrid with 164kW and a 0-100km/h time slashed to 6.7 seconds, and an electric driving range 50 per cent higher – that would put range at around 60km – from a 13.6kWh battery.
Toyota Australia’s product planners and executives tend to do a bang-up job, as it dominates the sales charts. I somewhat admire the Big T even if many consider it a battery-electric laggard, but this decision really misses the mark.
I’m quite sure there are Toyota people reading this, so please keep in mind it’s never too late to reconsider. The first step to addressing a wrong decision is to acknowledge it.