Toyota Motor's (TM) recall woes may have pushed U.S. sales of Toyota and Lexus vehicles lower during the past year, but they haven't stopped one popular model from setting a new milestone.

Propelled in part by higher prices at the gas pump, the fuel-efficient Toyota Prius hybrid recently surpassed 1 million sales in the U.S., Toyota said Wednesday in a statement.

Since it first went on sale in the U.S. sales over a decade ago, "[the] Prius has become synonymous with the word hybrid and as we see fuel prices starting to rise again, it has accounted for more than 60% of hybrid passenger car sales so far this year," says Bob Carter, general manager of the company's Toyota division.

Worldwide, Prius sales topped the 2 million mark in October, and global sales of all Toyota and Lexus brand hybrids exceeded 3 million last month, Toyota says. The Japanese automaker's closest competitor, Honda Motor (HMC), has sold roughly a fifth as many hybrid vehicles.

Setting the Standard for Hybrids

"It's an achievement to sell a million units of a somewhat unusual looking car with a very different power train in North America," says John Voelcker, editor at GreenCarReports.com.

For better or worse, the Prius has become both an automotive and cultural touchstone, says Voelcker. Its appeal crosses ideological divides, from environmentally conscious liberals who want to reduce their carbon footprints to conservatives who want to lessen the nation's dependence on imported oil.

Unlike cars with conventional power trains, the standard-setting Prius uses both electricity- and gas-powered engines that work in tandem to optimize fuel economy. When stopped at a traffic light, for example, the gas motor shuts down to save fuel, but quickly and quietly resumes operating as soon as the gas pedal is pressed. It's this technology that allows the Prius to achieve around 50 mpg in both city and highway driving -- impressive for a mid-sized car.

Still a Niche Seller


Beyond its enviable fuel economy, demand for the Prius has been stoked by government subsidies in several nations keen on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, among them Japan and the U.S., notes Arthur Wheaton, an auto industry analyst at Cornell University's ILR School. Generous tax credits in Japan, for example, helped propel demand for the Prius higher than for Toyota's more traditional Corolla compact, itself a huge seller.

Wheaton says that while the Prius may be popular, it hasn't sparked demand for hybrids across the industry. "It at least made the technology seem feasible," he says, "but no other car has actually been able to duplicate its success."

Still, a million-car milestone isn't all that remarkable compared to other vehicles sold in the U.S. Ford Motor (F), for example, sold more than half a million copies of its F-Series pickup line last year alone.

A good run for an automotive assembly plant is 250,000 cars a year, says Philip Gott, director of automotive solutions at IHS (IHS). But the million-Prius milestone is significant for a vehicle that set the market expectations of how a hybrid vehicle should look, feel and perform.

"To that extent, you can't take anything away from Toyota," Gott says. "They put the stake in the ground that everyone else is now scrambling around." The Prius is the car of choice for consumers who looking for a fuel-efficient vehicle and don't mind paying a bit more for it.

Toyota's Post-Earthquake Outlook


Now, Toyota's fortunes are tied in large part to the Japanese government's ability to recover from the devastating 9.0 earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast part of the country last month, says Cornell's Wheaton. All the Japanese automakers will likely face a growing wave of parts shortages at their U.S. plants in the coming weeks -- shortages that will likely lead to shutdowns, he says.

As for production of the Prius, which is manufactured solely in Japan, Toyota's biggest issue is anticipated blackouts caused by the loss of power generation from damaged nuclear plants, Wheaton says.

For its part, Toyota said in a statement Wednesday that production of the Prius and two Lexus hybrid models -- the CT 200h and HS 250h -- continues at two plants, although at less than capacity. The automaker also said it will continue to manufacture replacement parts and parts for overseas production in Japan.

Toyota said its 13 North America vehicle plants continue to operate on normal two-shift schedules, but overtime and Saturday shifts have been canceled.



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75 Comments

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richard

Check the accelerators and the engine computers before any of these Toyotas are sold. And the NHTSA should start recalling all Hondas also. People who buy these cars should pay a special tax also, to support soup kitchens and lost manufacturing tax base in America.

April 08 2011 at 9:02 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
sseary

When are they going to recall these cars?

April 08 2011 at 7:39 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rickets99

"It at least made the technology seem feasible," he says, "but no other car has actually been able to duplicate its success."---You know why? It's because nobody even knows those cars exist. I was talking to a cabbie the other day and she didn't even realize that the Prius got 50/mpg. I mention other hybrid cars and trucks to people and it's complete "news" to them. Some even think a Prius and other hybrids cost over $50k. No, most of them are pretty much in line with regular gas guzzling cars. In fact, our Prius cost is only $200/month--although it might have gone up since we got it with the gas prices rising.

April 07 2011 at 10:58 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to rickets99's comment
therule72

I have TWO old GM SUVs with 4WD ... Both together cost $100/month. You idiots fail to realize gasoline is the CHEAPEST part of owning a car.

April 08 2011 at 7:21 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
whamhammer

When were paying close to a dollar in taxes on gas (sales tax/Fed' gas tax/sate gas tax), were ARE NEVER going to see less than $2.00/gallon gas again.

April 07 2011 at 8:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
therule72

It's AMAZING how folks bitch about $4 gas... but NEVER about $40,000 little cars plus increased new car insurance.

April 07 2011 at 8:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to therule72's comment
rickets99

With our monthly Prius payment and insurance, it's still less than what we were paying for gas on our old vehicle.

April 07 2011 at 10:59 PM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
kent05r

Toyota Has Nothing to worry about. As far as the Obama electric car goes. BYD is Warren Buffetts car, And he has 793,612,000 share in China on the HKE Hong Kong Exchange at roughly 66 dollars a share. of yours and mine Tax dollars From Obama. Now the real reason I comment is for the Nissan, Leaf. Cost is 30k plus.
The replacement Battery is $15.400, Yes 15k plus. This is from MolyCorp. the one who mine the minerals for the new battery. Obama has sold you and me out. One term only please.

April 07 2011 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to kent05r's comment
hrshkvtz

Prius reached the one million mark is USA sales, (many of them taxis), 2million worldwide, and 3 million in total global hybrid sales. I sell these things and never heard of any substantiated reports of battery problems. And it's about 2k for the battery pack now, never cost more than 4-5k, but moot point because they lasted. Statistically, one would be more likely to spend 2 grand on a rebuilt engine or tranny on a non-prius, than you would to replace a hybrid battery.

April 07 2011 at 11:19 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
richard

Guess what, pretty soon, when Toyota goes down the tubes, all you`ll see are Volts. Designed and built in America.

April 08 2011 at 8:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
voaz

Need a 100mile/gallon hybrid to break even. The technology is there but "they" don't want to use it - it's the money thing again!

April 07 2011 at 5:40 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to voaz's comment
therule72

Really? What IS the technology "they" are hiding?

April 07 2011 at 8:05 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
rickets99

The plug-in electric Prius hybrid is supposed to be coming out by the end of this year--it's supposed to get 100/mpg.

April 07 2011 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
harleydavid105

Free trade was meant to raise the wages and standard of living in low paying countries to be more in line with the USA. Instead it has lowered our wages and standard of living to that of a third-world country.

April 07 2011 at 4:30 PM Report abuse +6 rate up rate down Reply
jesuaphn

The Volt! What a joke

The Volt really isn't a pure electric car after all. It's doubtful that GM would have gotten such a subsidy if it had been revealed that the car would do much of its freeway cruising with a gas engine powering the wheels. While the Volt is more complicated than the Prius, and has a longer battery-only range, a hybrid is a hybrid, and the Prius no longer qualifies for a $7500 tax credit.
Consumer Reports got about 30 miles to the gallon of premium fuel; which, in terms of additional cost of high-test gas, drives the effective mileage closer to 27 mpg.
I drive a Ford Fiesta now; regular gasoline and make 40 mpg or better depending on how fast I drive.

April 07 2011 at 4:15 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to jesuaphn's comment
harleydavid105

The 1.4 liter engine does not power the wheels. It powers the generator to charge the batteries which will take the Volt another 300 miles. Do a little research before making a comment.

April 07 2011 at 4:22 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
rickets99

If you commute with your Volt to work less than 40 miles, charge your car at work, then drive home you should be on electric power. The average work commute of about 40 miles (for 75% of people) was why the Volt designers came up with that figure. The reason that it has a gas engine is to extend the range if you occasionally went farther than that. It's supposed to be primarily a work car.

April 07 2011 at 11:04 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
harleydavid105

Henry Ford created the middle-class in this country when he started paying wages high enough that the people who built his cars could actually afford to buy one. It was the middle-class that built this country and made it strong and now the middle-class is quickly disappearing. Soon there will only be the obscenely rich and the poor former middle-class.

April 07 2011 at 3:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to harleydavid105's comment
harleydavid105

An $8.50 an hour job doesn't make you a fat-cat. It means poverty. You can't buy a house or a new car or raise a family on that. Surely you earned higher wages than that before you retired.

April 07 2011 at 3:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
harleydavid105

The blue-collar jobs are middle-class and they are disappearing as jobs are outsourced. The obscenely rich are the CEO's and politicians who sent the jobs away. Check out the song "We Can't Make It Here" by James McMurtry. I'm positive you can relate to it as I have.

April 07 2011 at 3:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply