For two decades, the name “Prius” was all a committed Toyota buyer needed to know when searching for a compact hybrid vehicle. Soon, there’ll be two options, not counting the plug-in Prius Prime.
The automaker’s decision to offer a hybrid version of the still strong-selling Corolla was not made to usher its famed hybrid model into the shadows; rather, there’s two key reasons for it. Sure, the Corolla nameplate carries an enviable reputation and boatloads of name recognition, but Toyota’s also willing to admit that the Prius’ attributes just weren’t resonating with a certain segment of the American public.
To be clear, the next-generation Corolla Hybrid is not earmarked solely for U.S. buyers. It’s on its way to 90 countries.
Jack Hollis, general manager of the Toyota Division at Toyota Motor North America, told Automotive News that the first reason for expanding the brand’s compact hybrid presence involves fuel economy standards. The Corolla nameplate still sees boffo volume, and a hybrid version would help Toyota’s standing in the eyes of environmental regulators.
The second reason to water down the Prius’ importance in the lineup involves the type of buyer who might be in the market for a Corolla hybrid. The Prius just doesn’t play well with Hispanics, he claimed, but the Corolla does. As Hispanic buyers show a strong desire for Japanese brands, the presence of a gas-electric Corolla might sway hybrid shoppers into staying with the brand.
Lassoing resistant buyers is also the motivation behind Toyota’s unveiling, last week, of the all-wheel drive Prius AWD-e. While the Prius has seen its status (and sales) shrink amid newfound competition and the presence of PHEVs and battery electric vehicles, it’s still the first name that comes to mind when anyone mentions the word “hybrid.” But what works for buyers in one region might not work in another.
According to the model’s chief engineer, Shoichi Kaneko, the addition of AWD to the Prius’ equipment roster came about after Northeastern dealers demanded a Prius that could tackle the region’s notorious blizzards.