The Internets were abuzz today with Toyota’s dramatic unveiling of the next-generation Prius at the North American International Auto Show. The top-selling hybrid hopes to keep its spot with a car that’s a little bigger, has a more powerful engine, is slightly more aerodynamic and gets a few more miles to the gallon than its predecessor.
With hybrid sales on the decline, Toyota’s got a lot riding on this new line. Prius sales fell 45 percent in December and 12 percent for the year, but the company says the new Prius will help increase demand for the car–including by current owners who want to upgrade. Overall hybrid sales were down 10 percent for 2008, accounting for only 2.4 percent of new vehicle sales (which are also on the decline).
But is a newer, sleeker Prius with a more powerful 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine, an average mpg of 50 (up 4 miles from the previous model) and optional moonroof with solar panels to power the ventilation system enough to lure buyers?
The poor showing is obviously a victim of our failing economy, but some are speculating that the huge drop in December can be attributed to the fact that gas has gotten so affordable, well below $2 a gallon–down from close to $5 a gallon in peak areas last summer. But are people really basing decisions like that on something so tenuous? Is it possible that people are thinking to themselves, “Hey, gas is so cheap we should run right down to the auto dealer and pick us up one of them gas-guzzling SUVs”?
I certainly hope not. Because first of all, and I hate to break it to you, the price of gas is going to go back up. In fact it has already started its upward climb, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
And second of all, I don’t think people buy hybrid cars just to save money at the pump. Sure, it’s a perk, no doubt about that. The real benefit comes from its lower emissions and preservation of dwindling natural resources. Personally, I’m in it for the fact that you don’t have to dig through your bag to find your keys to get in the car or even start it (push button start rocks).