Why the Toyota Prius Might Be Poised to Become the World’s Best-Selling Hybrid Vehicle

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“I foresee hybrid models pretty soon reaching 20% of global sales from about 13% to 14% now.”

Those are the bold words of Toyota Prius creator Takeshi Uchiyamada, and he spoke them recently to the Automotive News magazine in Europe. Even to those uninitiated with the logistics of the hybrid car market, that’s a high jump in percentage points for hybrids to make. Here in America, though, a climb like that doesn’t seem particularly out of the question.

The Prius was California’s best-selling car of 2013, a distinction that led to nearly 70,000 cars sold in that state during the year. Hybrids in general made up about 7% of the state’s entire new vehicles sold. Nationwide, hybrid vehicles are on the upswing — the Prius especially. Part of that is due to Honda Insight battery problems; namely, the batteries for certain Honda models (Civic and Accord included) tend to drop out after only eight years or so after purchase. Prius rides haven’t encountered similar issues.

But since the Prius was first introduced in 1997, its market activity in Europe should be about the same in Europe, right? Not quite, the numbers say. Despite an impressive hybrid fuel economy, only 215,000 electric and plug-in vehicles were sold in the EU during 2013, a figure that doesn’t even amount to a 2% market share. Europe loves its diesel-fueled engines, and Europeans have figured out how to get the best MPG with those diesel autos — without all the additional costs of hybrid car battery replacement.

All that leaves Uchiyamada’s words seeming a bit airy and without substance. But he may have a master plan after all, and that target market lies just east of Europe’s diesel-fueled stronghold. Officials in China are currently working toward incentivizing the purchase of hybrid vehicles, World Crunch reports, a move that could have largely beneficial results for Toyota (and hybrid makers in general) as China is the world’s largest economy.

This just might signal the chance that Uchiyamada is talking about. If expansion into Chinese markets is the answer, it seems that making the biggest splash in the hybrid car market isn’t about understanding how to get the best MPG at all. It’s about knowing where to sell your autos.

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