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Toyota Prius Prime is scarce at dealerships, leaving demand for its plug-in on the table

The Toyota Prius Prime might offer only 25 miles of electric range. And its gas engine might come on randomly and too often making its EV status debateable. But there’s no denying that the Toyota plug-in hybrid outsells every other EV and PHEV in the US except for the Tesla Model 3 (Model 3 wins there, by a factor of 7). Now there’s evidence on that Toyota isn’t offering nearly enough Prius Primes to meet demand.

A customer in Austin, Tex. wanting to buy a Prius Prime, reports:

Today after searching around Texas dealerships, including Austin where we live, the Prime seems to be in short or non-supply at every dealer. Is this how it is everywhere? Any particular reason for this? I did read that people feel dealers are sticking it to them on Prime prices, sometimes charging a premium over MSRP. Or even telling customers they don’t sell the Prime.

The dip in availability and sales could be explained by an uneven rollout of the 2020 version of the Prime. While the 2020 model’s powertrain is unchanged, the new version of the vehicle now provides space for five passengers—correcting a major shortcoming of the outgoing four-passenger model. Since the Prius Prime has a large battery hacked into the rear trunk floor and Toyota didn’t originally want to retrofit the car for the increased weight, it just knocked out its 5th seat. That was a huge loss, particularly for families.  

It’s remarkable to consider that, regardless of the supply constraints, the Prius Prime is outselling EVs like the Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf. Toyota is on track to sell about 21,000 Primes this year, down from 2018’s mark of 27,600.

A PriusChat user in Florida argues, “If they stocked this car, understood it, and talked about it with customers,” then they “would not be able to keep up with the demand.”

 A commenter in Chicago says that Primes are now “scarcer than hen’s teeth.” And another Austin-ite says there’s no question about demand based on seeing “tons of Leafs” and lots of Teslas driving around “like roaches here.” That’s corroborated by a Tampa-based customer who sees “way, way, way, way more Teslas than Primes.”

2021 Toyota RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid

These reports about lack of dealership support for Toyota’s only plug-in car come weeks before Toyota unveils the new 2021 RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid this month at the Los Angeles Auto Show.  

As the driver of a 2014 RAV4 EV for three years — I loved that EV — it’s disappointing that the affordable, ultra-popular crossover is not offered in pure electric form. Nonetheless, if a mere 10 percent of RAV4 buyers choose the plug-in hybrid—roughly the take rate for Prime among Priuses—Toyota would sell 40,000 to 50,000 of them per year.

 Electrek’s Take

Toyota doesn’t make an EV. There’s a reason that Teslas are more prevalent in key markets. Also, Toyota is on the wrong side of the battle for higher MPG standards and it continues to push “electrified” vehicles, meaning mostly hybrids

We’re hoping that the Japanese automaker comes around to battery-electrics. However, assuming that it doesn’t, Toyota would make a necessary step forward by fully committing to the plug-in hybrids that it does offer. The combined customer base of the five-seat Prius Prime and RAV4 Plug-in Hybrid could displace a lot of gas-powered miles with zero-emission electric miles. 

When all those new plug-in hybrid drivers get a tiny taste of EV driving, then it’s only a matter of time before they start clamoring for a legit EV from Toyota. The company might not listen to EV advocates, but they just might respond to their loyal customers.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.