Tesla Model 3 is affecting Prius sales, admits Toyota – though still not convinced on EVs

Tesla’s Model 3 is stealing away sales from a surprising range of vehicles and Toyota is admitting to seeing an impact on Prius sales.

As a premium car, you would think that it would more likely affect Lexus sales, but Toyota says “Tesla is creating an entirely new segment of vehicles.”

Last year, Tesla revealed the top 5 cars Tesla Model 3 buyers are trading in and the Prius made the top of the list:

  • Toyota Prius
  • BMW 3-Series
  • Honda Accord
  • Honda Civic
  • Nissan Leaf

At the 2019 Automotive News World Congress (via Ward Auto), Toyota Motor North America CEO Jim Lentz admitted that they are seeing the impact on Prius sales as Tesla delivered over 100,000 Model 3 vehicles in the US last month.

He is not surprised that the impact is being felt on the Prius more than on Lexus sales even though the Model 3 is a premium vehicle because he thinks Tesla might have created a new segment:

“(Musk) is creating an entirely new segment of vehicles. And by that, I don’t view Tesla products as luxury products. Those of us who only separate the world between luxury and non-luxury, we’re missing the point. Tesla has created this new category of a technology-driven product.”

Yet, Lentz is not really bullish on all-electric vehicles.

He said:

“(Tesla CEO Elon Musk) has excited a lot of people about (battery) EVs. I worry a little bit we are over-stimulated in our belief that (battery) EVs are going to take over the world quickly. Today, if you look at just alternative(-powertrain) vehicles (hybrid, plug-in hybrid, BEV- or fuel-cell) there are 94 nameplates out there. And they sold about 600,000 (units) last year. But only seven sold more than 2,000 a month.”

The Toyota executive said that they are still many concerns:

“There’s not much growth in that industry. It’s going to be a battle (for share). The question is how are we going to be able to afford to get the share, because right now cost and range anxiety is still an issue for customers. And gas at $1.69 a gallon isn’t going to make things much easier.”

Those views on EVs have held back Toyota for the last few years, especially since they have parted ways with Tesla.

Now the automaker plans to have its first BEV in 2020 and it’s still only tentatively entering the space.

Electrek’s Take

Interesting comments from Lentz. I completely agree with him on the new “technology-driven product” category, but I don’t get why they are not pursuing that if they are recognizing it.

Also, part of the appeal of a Tesla vehicle is definitely the technological aspect, but that also includes the electric powertrain and infrastructure with fast-charging, the Supercharger network, and all models having decent range on a single charge.

They can’t act like that’s not also part of the reason why Tesla is outselling every other automaker when it comes to all-electric vehicles.

Lentz’s most interesting comment was probably the following:

“No one wants to be left behind, but if I don’t invest enough today to take care of today’s business, I may not have a future,”

To me, it basically means: “we want to invest in electric vehicles, but we first have to protect our current profitable business of selling gas-powered cars.”

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