While the Toyota Prius hybrid is by far the most popular and fuel efficient car for sale in the U.S., you won’t find many people who buy it because of the way it looks. But it seems that the powers-that-be are considering ditching the practical Prius wedge-shaped design for something more aesthetically pleasing.
The Toyota Prius looks the way it looks to keep its drag coefficient as low as possible, with the most recent model nailing a very slippery rating of 0.25. That is better than both the Chevy Volt (0.28) and Honda Insight (0.32), and judging by the meteoric sales of the Prius, the looks don’t bother many people, and with a little elbow grease, the Prius can even look kinda cool.
Yet looking around at the rest of the auto industry, it seems as though pure hybrid design is falling out of favor. The 2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid is rated at 47 mpg across the board, just a few mpg shy of the standard Prius, yet it looks a lot more like a regular car. Same with the Chevy Volt, the VW Jetta Hybrid, and other vehicles that are going for a more blended-in look rather than something that screams “HYYYYBRIDDDD!” With many former Prius owners turning in their cars for rides like the Volt, maybe Toyota is starting to see the writing on the wall.
With sales of alt-fuel vehicles rising, there is a much broader base of consumers who are considering buying a hybrid vehicle. With so many options other than the Prius, perhaps Toyota is worried that it will lose market share if it remains a distinct outlier. But on the other hand, this could also be a strong point for the Prius…some people want the world to know they drive a hybrid.
For those people, no car is more recognizable than the Prius. A drastic design change could alienate these buyers as well. America’s largest car market, California, is also the largest market for Prius sales. So the design still appeals to a LOT of people…or at the very least, it doesn’t put them off enough to buy another car.
Toyota has to walk a tightrope with the new Prius design. Should they strike off in a bold new direction, or stay with the proven formula?