The Prius debuted in Japan in 1997 and then launched overseas in the year 2000. Like any revolutionary new product, it took a little while to catch on. But catch on—it did. By 2003, the Prius was becoming generally recognized for what it was—the wave of the future—a “smart car” for a smarter generation. It was a turning point. The Prius had become cool!
The Car That Americans Would Never Buy?
In the early days, marketers said the Prius could never sell in the US. The critics insisted that the American consumer would never buy a fuel efficient vehicle with a 1.5 liter gasoline engine, even if actual power output took advantage of a second power source, an electric motor. Gas was cheap. And “Big” was big too—large SUVs and pickups were the hot sellers in Middle America. In terms of oil prices and consumer prices, the American market in 1997 was similar to that in the Middle East today.
So Toyota shelved the idea of exporting the Prius right away. But sales in Japan exceeded expectations. In fact, initial orders were three times higher than expected in just the first month. Maybe, Toyota thought, the marketing gurus were wrong. When a new minor change model appeared in the year 2000, Toyota tested the waters in North America and Europe—selling 6,500 Prius vehicles abroad the first year—about half of those sold in Japan. It was a slow start—but Toyota had faith in the potential of the Prius.
(Prius US export Image)
New minor change Prius (2000) exported to US and Europe
How The Prius Became A Star
Movie stars and other celebrities have often led the way in identifying both progressive issues—such as climate change or the environment—and also progressive products like the Prius which had a strong emotional resonance since it contributed to creating a more environmentally friendly world. Some celebrities wanted to make a statement about making environmentally sound decisions in their role as a responsible citizen and inspire others and the Prius was a perfect solution to their aspirations.
At the 2003 Academy Awards ceremony, all eyes were on celebrities such as Harrison Ford, Calista Flockhart, Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz—each of them arriving at the famous Red Carpet in…a Prius! Suddenly, the Prius was in the spotlight. And everybody wanted to know more about it. Since “cool” people used this unique vehicle, and were not shy about explaining why, the Prius quickly became an icon of Cool.
(Hollywood sign image)
Prius InThe Fast Lane
America is a nation in the Fast Lane. But in California where almost everyone relies on cars to get from A to B, freeway congestion and air pollution issues led to carpool lanes. These priority lanes were restricted to vehicles with two or more persons. Imagine that you are stuck in traffic: it’s a hot day and nothing is moving. Then, a Prius whizzes by—with just one person in it! The government of California had decided that low emissions vehicles should get preferential treatment. Suddenly, Californians wanted the Prius. Even a used Prius could command a premium price.
The Second Generation: “Cool” Becomes Hot
At the same time, Prius development was not standing still. When the second generation Prius appeared in September 2003, it was a huge step forward. Its Hybrid Synergy Drive not only benefitted the environment to a greater extent, but also offered substantial improvements in power and overall performance. This new Prius was also more stylish, inside and out—a trendy five-door hatchback with a stunning interior and Toyota’s legendary attention to details, including a joystick-like shift knob and push button start. The Prius had now become a really Cool car and also “Hot”.
(Hybrid Synergy Drive Image)
A Winner Worldwide
The second generation Prius was clearly a winner. It became “Car of the Year” in North America in 2004 and “Car of the Year” in Europe in 2005. As it caught the eye of the public globally, other manufacturers belatedly tried to get into the market. The Prius however continued to be acknowledged as the only credible “Green Car”.
In 2008, global sales of the Prius soared to 1 million units. But Toyota did not rest on its laurels, and introduced a third generation Prius in 2009. As the company likes to say, “Proof is in the Prius”—sales doubled, exceeding 2 million units in 2010. The Prius is known for its smooth acceleration. And sales have also accelerated—worldwide. It is now sold in more than a hundred countries and, with the advent of the new fourth generation model will be introduced in another thirty, including the Middle East.?You can be sure that future generations of the Prius will be ever better. After all, the future belongs to the Prius.
Toyota Prius 2nd & 3rd Generation image