This can no longer be considered a fluke: The Ford Fusion Hybrid has once again outsold the Toyota Prius.
This is only the second time ever that the Prius has been outsold by another hybrid in the U.S., and both times it was by the Fusion Hybrid and it happened in two months out of the first three months of this year.
For the month of March, the sedan from Ford narrowly edged out the Toyota with 5,865 sales for the Fusion to 5,798 for the Prius.
What’s the big deal with 67 more sales? Nothing normally, that would be a blip of a statistic, except the Prius is not any ordinary car.
The Prius for all of this decade easily outsold the next-closest hybrid by double if not triple the sales, but that streak was broken in January when the Fusion Hybrid edged it out with 4,856 sales to 4,553.
Typically also, the Fusion Hybrid up until last year ranked fourth or fifth behind the King-of-Hybrids Prius. To put the disparity in starker relief, a year ago in March 2016 the Prius sold 8,130 units to the Fusion Hybrid’s 2,057 – that’s nearly four times the volume. In March 2015, the Prius sold an outstanding 9,485 units to the Fusion Hybrid’s 2,534 – also close to four times the volume.
For the first quarter of this year, the Prius holds a narrow lead of 15,769 sales to the Fusion Hybrid’s 15,660.
Does that help give perspective to the Ford beating the Prius for two months out of three in this year?
How Could This Be?
The U.S. hybrid market is famously down thanks to cheap gas and the rise of plug-in cars, but for the past couple of years, its market share has been within 2 percent of all passenger vehicles, give or take 0.2 percent. This issue between the Prius and Fusion, therefore, has to do with them, and not the whole hybrid vehicle market.
Notable is in March, the Prius was down by 28.7 percent year over year, and the Fusion Hybrid is significantly up by 185.1 percent.
Undoubtedly this is the year so far for the revised 2017 Fusion Hybrid to shine.
Actually, both cars are revised, and the Ford was only mildly whereas the Prius is now a generation-four product, far more evolved, and more able to even try and rest on its laurels.
Toyota says thanks to the hybrid lines the Prius has inspired, it has done more for electrified transportation than any other automaker so far, but its pinnacle product is now gasping for wind.
Car Versus Car
This is in spite of the fact that the 52-mpg plus Prius trounces the 42 mpg Ford on paper as a fuel efficiency machine.
The new Prius also now handles competently with a stiffer chassis, independent rear suspension, and it may be the most engaging Prius to date in terms of handling.
Acceleration is another matter, as the more powerful Fusion might trip the light in a 0-60 mph run in the low 7 seconds, while the Prius takes around 10 or so.
Could Looks Have Something to Do with It?
As much as we humans love to think we’re logical, emotions have a lot to do with decisions even for “the second largest purchase” the average consumer will make.
As such, the number one deciding factor in purchasing a car is exterior styling, and the new Prius has been, can we say it politely, polarizing.
In Japan, where the funky and techno-modernistic may fly with fewer raised eyebrows than in the U.S., the new Prius’ angles and lines are being well received.
Truth be told, the Prius is already well on its way to blending in here, but – perhaps for a lack of better things to do – armchair pundits with North American aesthetic sensibilities have taken it upon themselves to lambaste the Prius as an ungainly confusion of design elements.
Others say they find the new Prius quite fetching, but meanwhile, though the Prius carries a far more solid pedigree, and superior efficiency versus the Fusion Hybrid’s, the Ford blends in with the mainstream-handsome appearance of the Fusion family line.
Toyota and Ford sales also include an unknown quantity of fleet sales in addition to retail sales, but a breakdown is not available between the two brands.
Supply and Demand?
The base Prius starts a bit below $25,000 and the base Fusion Hybrid starts a bit above $25,000, and their options and trim packages make the two cars priced within range of one another before any discounting or incentives.
According to Michigan-based automotive analyst Alan Baum however, a factor in the ascendancy of the Fusion Hybrid and the decline of the Prius has do with availability and value proposition.
Toyota has known since last year that its revised Prius did not explode customers’ enthusiasm, though it has tended to blame it on the overall market – which above we saw has been down, but relatively stable.
The Prius, which is produced in Japan, has been selling well there, while performing “poorly” in the U.S. for the past several months since the fall when the Liftback was doing better in the U.S., said Baum. So, he said, availability may also be a factor.
“As the model did decently, but still below expectations and anticipating the general result that sales in the winter are more modest, Toyota moved output to take account of stronger demand in Japan, thus reducing the availability of the model in the U.S.,” said Baum.
As for the Ford Fusion line, it has benefitted greatly by price slashing, or “incentivizing” even as Ford reduced production given lower demand, said Baum.
“Those incentives have extended to the hybrid version,” said Baum. “Thus, the results are specific to the two products in question, one resulting in reducing volume for the Prius Liftback and the other increasing demand for the Fusion hybrid.”
So It Goes
With nine months in 2017 left to go, it is still too early to make projections, but that the Prius Liftback has comparatively stumbled out of the gate is clear.
It used to crush everyone hands down, and only a little more than a year ago no hybrid model sold more than 3,000-some in a given month other than it, but that trend has changed.
Another strong seller has been the RAV4 Hybrid which benefits by being AWD, a crossover SUV which is so popular these days, and it’s priced just $700 over the non-hybrid RAV4.
That’s another shift in the market and the pending Nissan Rogue hybrid crossover may soon follow, but the Ford Fusion Hybrid’s dominance is actually all the more notable as it’s just one of several hybrid sedans, all of which closely follow a similar formula.
The hybrid sedan market is actually the most competitive, and the Fusion is not the best of them in terms of mpg – the Honda Accord and Chevy Malibu top it and are also all-new – but it is defying odds and running ahead of the Prius.
We’ll see how this goes the rest of the year, but for the first time this decade, the utter dominance of the Prius has now been broken, and it’s a mid-pack-mpg sedan that’s doing it because it hits enough sweet spots for consumers while also priced to sell.
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