Most industry milestones make for pretty weak news events. Like when Toyota passes General Motors in global sales, or when trucks became more than half the U.S. car market, they are simply small reminders of some greater change that was barreling down the freeway for years. Toyota’s news that it has sold more than 1 million Priuses globally as of the end of April is no exception.
But look a little deeper and there are some other numbers that show the real significance of the Prius. Almost 60% of those sales are in North America. The car has sold in nearly twice the volume here that it did in Japan, where Toyota really is king and gasoline is even more expensive. What’s more telling is that Prius sales in the U.S. are up 21% this year and were up 70% last year to 181,000 cars. That’s more than Ford sells of its Fusion, which is a pretty nice family sedan. At the same time Camry hybrid sales are up 36% this year.
Granted Toyota has cut the price of the Prius in recent model years. And there is an open question as to the car’s real profit haul (if there is any) for the company. But one thing is for sure. Toyota has captured the imagination of American car buyers in a way that Apple’s iPod has engendered the love of music fans. The company’s is ramping up volume and therefore lowering costs of the technology. That makes it one of the few carmakers who are prepared for expensive oil and tougher fuel economy regulations. This is one big bet that paid off.