Excitement isn’t a commonly used word when the conversation turns to hybrids. A great deal of hubbub is generally created by high fuel prices, but the front pages of enthusiast car magazines aren’t normally splashed with fuel economy ratings and consequent exclamation points. Furthermore, though the American car market is a massive corporate purchaser of small cars, small car fervour is generally reserved for nameplates with suffixes like Si, GTI, SS, and SE-R.
Combine all three factors to make one car – a fuel-efficient hybrid small car – and you wouldn’t think America would be all that excited. But the Toyota Prius C is so fuel-efficient and so right-priced that its status as a hybrid compact with very little horsepower and very grand mpg numbers doesn’t seem to hurt. Doesn’t seem to hurt? Far from it, the Toyota Prius C’s status as a hybrid compact with very little horsepower is helping now more than ever.
Toyota dealers in the United States began selling the Prius C on March 12. By the end of March 15, Toyota had sold 1201 Prius C hatchbacks. That’s 400 per day. Toyota’s press team was keen to point out that sales figures this strong make the Prius C more popular than the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF were in the whole month of February… combined.
For those not closely acquainted with the vast numbers of cars sold in the United States each year, it’s worth considering the figures of three other models. The regular Prius found 18,605 buyers in March of last year. There were 27 selling days in March 2011, meaning Toyota was selling 689 Prii per day. During the same month, America’s best-selling car, the Toyota Camry, sold 1165 times per selling day, nearly 49 per hour, or one per state per hour. And America’s overall best-selling vehicle line, the Ford F-Series, sold 1973 times per selling day in March 2011.
This isn’t an effort to extinguish the Prius C’s hype with unfair comparisons. Use the Prius, Camry, and F-Series as counterbalances to Toyota’s LEAF and Volt comparisons. There’s no doubt, in its first three days on the market, the Prius C was a hot seller, hardly sitting on dealership pavement for any time at all. Prius Cs are filling auto transporters all over America.
Should we be surprised? The Prius C is rated at 53 miles per gallon in the city, the best place to drive a car of this size; a car with 73 horsepower and 82 lb-ft of torque. Toyota calls it 99 net horsepower. Government ratings provided by the EPA on FuelEconomy.gov say the Prius C will do an estimated 46 miles per gallon on the highway, losing out significantly to the city rating because of the car’s inability to turn off its internal combustion engine on the highway as well as its inability to use regenerative braking.
Opting for a Prius C is, in more ways than one, very different than opting for a regular Prius. With 87.4 cubic feet of passenger space, the C trails the Prius by 6.6 cubic feet and the larger Prius V by 9.6 cubic feet. Cargo capacity behind the rear seat is only 17.1 cubic feet in the Prius C, a decent figure to be sure, but the Prius has 21.6 cubic feet and the Prius V has 34.3.
Then again, sacrificing those cubic feet has a dramatic impact on the MSRP. Prius V prices start at $26,400, $2400 above the Prius. The Prius, which has been of America’s best-selling cars for some time, is $5050 more than the new Prius C. Of course, the Prius C loses more than space – it is a whole lot less powerful, too. Moreover, you’ll need to spend an extra $950 on the Prius C Two just to get cruise control and 60/40 split fold-down rear seats with adjustable headrests. At $21,635, the Prius C Three has a sunroof, navigation, and a smart key system. Finally, the $23,230 Prius C Four is loaded with alloys, fog lamps, and SofTex heated front seats. All four Prius C models are estimated at 53/46 mpg, but it’s safe to assume that the weight of additional features (and passengers) will hinder the car’s ability to match those numbers.
It’s unlikely that the Prius C is going to cannibalize Prius sales in the way a Hyundai Azera does nothing but harm the Hyundai Genesis; the way a Ford B-Max could eat up some Fiesta sales. Over the course of March’s first, Toyota sold 9821 Prius family vehicles. This includes the Prius C, Prius V, the third-generation Prius, and the $32,000 Prius Plug-In. The Prius C accounted for 12% of those sales by being on sale for just three days. That’s a success by any means of measuring.