Home » It’s Time For The Car Enthusiast Community To Apologize To The 2nd-Generation Toyota Prius

It’s Time For The Car Enthusiast Community To Apologize To The 2nd-Generation Toyota Prius

Gen 2 Prius Apology Ts3
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The second-gen Toyota Prius (2004-2009) was cyber-bullied for years, particularly by automotive journalists. I was not one of them, but I did not stand up and defend the poor little hybrid hatchback; instead, I sat there and laughed. Laughed. Like some kind of heartless schmuck, I probably even commented about how much of a “beigemobile” this “anti-car” was. But now, over a decade later, I can no longer hold in the guilt — I need to apologize to the second-gen Prius on behalf of the car-enthusiast community. We need to make this right.

If the second-gen Prius never forgives us, I’ll understand. Even if its owners were often entitled greenies perched on the lankiest of high-horses, why does the car deserve the hatred? Like a person can’t choose their parents, a car can’t choose its buyer. And yet, we ragged on the poor Prius. For years and years. It was brutal and unjust.

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So I don’t open up too many old wounds for the Prius, which is no doubt traumatized by the years of harassment, I’ll cite only a few examples of this unfair Prius harassment. December of 2011, my friend Raphael from Jalopnik wrote the Answer of the Day article Ten new cars we’d take to a demolition derby. Look at entry number eight:

The Prius is not the best car to enter into a demolition derby. The overhangs are tiny, they’re going to get crushed into the engine, and you don’t even know what’s going to happen to the hybrid drive.

The great thing about the Prius is, even when you lose, everybody wins.

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When Jalopnik wrote Ten Worst Cars To Have Sex In, it of course included the Prius. Why? Well, because anyone driving such an “uninspiring object” clearly won’t know how to have a bit of fun. From that story:

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Let’s just get this right out of the way and acknowledge that no one wants to have sex in a Prius. First of all, it’s tough to get your swerve on in such an uninspiring object, something that’s more consumer good than car. Second, you risk bringing a new life into the world, which will certainly be a waste of precious resources. Third, if you’re a Prius owner, the idea of a car being fun is completely alien to you so you have your 20 minutes of lights-off missionary-position relations in the futon like a proper citizen anyway.

When Neal Pollack wrote Screw You, I Love The Prius back in 2012, a Jalopnik editor had to write this note right up front:

(Part of encouraging a diverse, intelligent car community is attempting to understand those with alternative points of view. In that vein, I invited humorist, car reviewer, Prius owner, and alterna-human being Neal Pollack to write up an explanation for why anyone might love the Prius.

Specifically, I told him over drinks that he was basically a terrible person and completely wrong for enjoying a beige hybrid and he told me to go to Hell. Here’s his half of the story. — Ed.)

Here’s what Johnny Liebermann wrote on The Truth About Cars (one of Jalopnik’s biggest competitors back 15 years ago) in 2008:

As many of you know I manage Autofiends.com . Our unofficial motto (can’t get the tech guys to change the site…) is “No Boring Cars.” Which means as the news of the day rolls in (grist to the mill) I need to parse it to determine what is and what isn’t “boring.” For instance there’s those pics of the new Prius that Jalopnik has whipped itself into its daily frenzy over (). And through the magic of search engine optimization Autofiends could probably get some decent traffic out of the post. More traffic makes the boss happy and (maybe) gets me more money! Only problem: the Prius is dull. Like, rock in sand dull. And not fancy Japanese rocks in Zen sand, but regular Texas Hill Country rocks in Great Plains dust.

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The thing about these early car blogs is that they had absolutely absurd amounts of influence on what people thought of certain vehicles. Millions of people read just a few blogs, and the young 20-somethings behind the keyboards often spouted out all sorts of hot takes and random thoughts. Readers couldn’t help but be influenced by these, well, influencers. I was one of these readers; I nodded along every time one of my favorite writers called the Prius a “blob” or a “jellybean” or a “beigemobile.” As a result, for years, in the car enthusiast community, the vehicle was considered the anti-car. But this morning, Matt Hardigree wrote something in The Morning Dump that reminded me of my guilt; here’s the operative quote from his piece:

Then, somewhere along the way, the appliance-like dustbuster second-gen car appeared and it felt like I was supposed to dislike it. In retrospect, that car was cool and I was the dork. I don’t think anyone views hybrids that way anymore, and it’s kind of amazing.

Obviously, I will keep beating the hybrids-are-good drum like Samantha Maloney, but it’s still amazing to me that there’s been such a turnaround.

Matt’s totally right. We were the dorks, and the Prius was the cool kid.

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The hate for the Prius was wrong. Obviously, as I said before, much of it stemmed from the holier-than-thou attitudes of its environmentalist drivers, but some of it also stemmed from weird styling and poor vehicle dynamics. Still, we should all have realized what the Prius was: A technological marvel. Just look at the love the BMW i3 gets. It’s a car journalist-favorite; I am about to buy my second because I’m an engineer and I think the i3 is an absolute engineering masterpiece. But why didn’t we see the Prius in that same light 15 years ago?

The thing was fascinating; its powertrain featured an eCVT that — along with world-beating aerodynamics — helped the car get roughly 50 MPG all the while scoring top crash-test scores from IIHS when equipped with its optional side-curtain airbags. I strongly suggest you spend about 8 minutes watching this video, because the eCVT’s function is truly fascinating, using two electric motors and a planetary gearset — all embedded inside the transmission housing — to propel the vehicle forward, either alone or along with the assistance of a 1.5-liter Atkinson Cycle four-cylinder gasoline engine:

Total output from that tiny 1.5-liter engine is just 76 horsepower, 82 lb-ft of torque, but motor output is 67 horsepower, 295 lb-ft of torque, yielding a total system power of 110 horsepower (the two are not additive) — I’m not sure what peak torque is, but it’s probably pretty high given that motor output figure.

Powering the electric motors in that eCVT are 28 7.2-volt Nickel Metal Hydride battery modules (which each are made up of six 1.2-volt cells) that together yield an 86 pound 201 volt pack with a capacity of about 1.3 kWh. It’s an air-cooled pack, as you can see in the image below (those are the ducts on the right side of the pack):

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Screen Shot 2024 05 17 At 8.59.19 AmBut it’s more than just the tech under the hood/rear bench that makes the 2900-pound hatch compelling; the car’s looks have grown on me (just as the i3’s have), it’s legitimately comfortable and practical, and I think the car is a lot of fun to drive.

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I had a chance to pilot my friend’s Prius in Germany, and I was fascinated by the screen that showed me you when I was driving full-electric, when I was generating electricity via regenerative braking, when the gasoline motor is assisting the electric motor, and on and on. It was juts fun to see what was happening, and to adjust my driving accordingly:

I reached out to my friend, Andreas (who has written here before — he’s shown with his wife Josi in the image below) to ask him for his diehard car-enthusiast take on the Prius, and whether or not the thinks the enthusiast world got the Gen II Prius wrong. Here’s what he told me:

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I absolutely do and I did so myself before I got one into my life.

I feel like most arguments I can bring for the Prius sound like stereotypes, but I guess they are stereotypes for a reason. It’s simply a bulletproof vehicle that still after all these years has decent fuel economy for it’s size. It’s a roomy car after all (for European standards). It’s comfortable and quick enough for daily driving. And it has it’s own “aura of enthusiasm”, it’s hard to describe but while other cars motivate you to go faster and drive crazier the Prius motivates you to chill and to hypermile.

That may also come from the CVT screaming at you whenever you punch the gas, but you get used to that fairly quickly and once you’re on the autobahn it gets a quiet bachground noise anyways. And I’m still surprised on how technologically advanced it was all these years and how many firsts it had. Keyless entry/go, big touchscreen, navigation, …. I’m not lacking anything even though the car is 20 year old now. I even think it looks pretty good now, maybe that’s because the car industry overall got more and more alien-looking over the years, but I like the clean look and even the stance, especially with the factory magnesium rims. And while it seems a complicated car to work on at first it’s just a regular toyota and parts are cheap and simple. and remember, I even repaired the HV battery.

Yes, that’s right, Germans apparently spell the word “background” with a “ch.” That’s the power of Magnificat.

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Andreas continues:

So on behalf of all car enthusiasts who besmirched your name for no good reason, dear gen-two Prius, I’d like to offer my sincerest apologies.

Images: Toyota

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Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago

When I was a regular on Jalopnik, I defended the GenII Prius – and hybrids in general, and econoboxes in general – at every turn. The GenIII Prius is, in my opinion, even more handsome but generations 4 and 5 got weird, even aggressively weird. This latest iteration is downright striking.

Now, on the Autopian, I continue to wave the hybrid flag. I’ve had two hybrids now and thoroughly enjoyed them both. I still have the Prius and will drive it until it breaks in half.

I don’t think I’ll live that long. It’s pretty reliable.

Heartlessly targeted by mouth breathing door dingers, it wears some scars. But my first and foremost desire for a hybrid was, at the outset, the economy. I work for a charity and money is always a front-of-mind consideration. The first hybrid displaced a Subaru Forester which was great fun but a pig on gas; with the money we saved on fuel compared to the Forester, that Civic Hybrid was essentially free.

The Prius is approximately as thrifty while being both larger and more comfortable, though I did give up that sweet manual in the Civic. But I picked up the super aerodynamic jellybean contour, which I had coveted from its first reveal.

Hybrids are approaching high performance from the other side of the coin. High power and speed are easy: throw money and fuel at the car until it goes as fast and as loudly as you want. The Prius, on the other hand, is the flagship of high performance vis-a-vis miles per dollar, instead of miles per hour. It squeezes every drop of fuel for every erg of energy in can convert into motion. The engine in the Prius is the most thermally efficient engine you can buy without your business card saying AMG on it, and the hybrid systems help keep it in that butter zone. It’s lofty stuff.

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
1 month ago

I have little issue with the 2nd-gen Prius. It was a much more cohesive effort than the 1st-gen, and really put the Prius on the map for being the leader in hybrids.

I’d put more side-eye at the Hollywood starlets who tried to use them as vouchers for pretending to be eco-concious, and continue to do so with EVs while still flying around the world in private jets and having massive mansions and curated unnatural lawns and such.

The 3rd and 4th gens I have more issue with, as their designs are much more “shouty” and lack the delightful pragmatism that’s so relatively endearing for the 2nd and 5th gens, along with the C and V variants of the past (RIP, especially the V, dammit). Heck, the rear end of the 4th-gen models alone is almost unbearably awkward.

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
1 month ago

I just wanted to shout-out that breakdown on how the eCVT works. I had a pretty good idea of how it worked, but never really saw it so well demonstrated. It seems elegantly simple and pretty robust.

Angry Bob
Angry Bob
1 month ago

I was pumping gas one time when a guy in a Prius pulled up at the next pump and got out of the car. I said loudly, “Hey, I thought those things ran on electricity! Har har har!”.

He gave me the look of death like I was the 10,000th person to say that to him.

Later I owned a first generation Ford Escape Hybrid which shares the same hybrid technology as the Prius. It was a fantastic car! Four doors, 4×4, and 35+mpg. It amazed me that the versatility of two motor generators and a planetary gear set gave you electric-only, hybrid, reverse, and CVT all from so few parts. And it was 100% reliable. Never gave me any problems in 100k miles of owning it.

It was no hot-rod, but it got along just fine. Wish I still had it.

JShaawbaru
JShaawbaru
1 month ago

When the 2nd-gen Prius came out, I was in high school, and I absolutely hated it. Now, 20 years later, I daily drive one. I bought it almost 4 years ago, I’ve put over 50,000 miles on it, and it’s been more reliable (and of course fuel efficient) than anything else I’ve owned.

Electronika
Electronika
1 month ago

Not to mention all the Diane jokes from Bokack Horeseman

Scruffinater
Scruffinater
1 month ago

I am a closet prius lover and the 2nd gen is my favorite. It pulls the little on the outside/big on the inside trick just like a golf or a fit, and the back seat area feels huge. Like more roomy than anything outside of a long wheelbase merc (like a w126 sel)! It has also aged well design wise and is still the best looking generation, though the current gen is a close second for me.

Also, yeah, dogs can’t be wrong 🙂

Robot Turds
Robot Turds
1 month ago

We owned a first gen Prius ( the weird ones that looked more like a Nissan Sentra) and my mom has owned a 3rd gen for years. Styling is one thing. Actually living with one is another. These are some of the LEAST fun or enjoyable cars to drive. It was cool for the first few months gawking down at the MPG rating on the dash. Once that was over it was simply a miserable to own appliance. We don’t miss them. At all.

Clive Wilson
Clive Wilson
1 month ago

No. Just…no.

The 2nd-gen Prius was unpleasant to drive and the interior had an abundance of hard plastics that made spending time there feel like a punishment.

I don’t care how innovative it was under the skin, the thing was a shitbox from new.

Musicman27
Musicman27
1 month ago
Reply to  Clive Wilson

A crapbox with 40+ MPG, and enough space for you and your nonexistent buddies to take a hike.

Last edited 1 month ago by Musicman27
Noahwayout
Noahwayout
1 month ago
Reply to  Musicman27

It’s weird when people complain about utilitarian interiors. Don’t like it? Easy solution, don’t buy one! I’ve spent a lot of time in this gen Prius and I always found them a rather comfortable place to soak up the miles.

Stef Schrader
Stef Schrader
1 month ago

I always kind of liked the styling of it! I liked the idea of a hybrid car and it was honestly one of the beige-era cars with the most character. Look at that funky hatch! Look at it! I fully own up to oohing and aahing when one of my professors in college showed his new Prius off. Those were rare when I was a freshman! I’m old. Anyway, it was a huge upgrade from the misshapen blob that was the first-gen Prius.

I didn’t like how it became the official car of smug self-importance in the court of public opinion, even though none of the Prius owners I knew were like that. They just wanted a reliable thing to drive that was easy on the environment, man.

Then there was the actual task of driving it. I never drove this generation of Prius, but the next-gen Prime I reviewed was so frustratingly slow that it was unreal. Just an absolute bummer on four wheels, even though — once again — Toyota designed a Prius that was visually interesting. Hopefully this one was better, though? They were usually the moving chicanes on the freeway, but I want to blame drivers who aren’t car people over the car itself. I hope you were better, second-gen Prii. I want to believe.

Last edited 1 month ago by Stef Schrader
Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago
Reply to  Stef Schrader

Yay Stef! Another Jalopnik alum. Good to see you around.

Jatco Xtronic CVT
Jatco Xtronic CVT
1 month ago

I always thought it was a cute looking little car. They remind me of a hamster.

That being said, that CVT design seems very complicated and like it might not be so easily serviced. If only they’d used a CVT by Jatco! No need for service, ever, and incredible fuel economy. Do yourself a favor and get a Nissan Sentra instead

Last edited 1 month ago by Jatco Xtronic CVT
Noahwayout
Noahwayout
1 month ago

These have gone 20+ years with transmission failures being very rare. How much more reliable do you need?

Turbotictac
Turbotictac
1 month ago

Getting any Nissan product newer than 1999 is certainly not doing yourself a favor

Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago

As I recall, Nissan CVTs have a reputation for assorted failure modes and Toyota’s eCVT just…doesn’t.

I won’t say the car is perfect, far from it. I’ve turned wrenches on mine for sure. But the transmission? I don’t even know precisely where in the car it is, that’s how little I’ve had to think about it.

Matt Huber
Matt Huber
1 month ago

Having driven every generation of Prius, the 2nd and 3rd gen are by far my favorite Prius, and the 2nd gen is actually one of my favorite cars.

Why?

If you understand the car, it’s an absolute delight to drive. If you don’t, it’ll infuriate the hell out of you and be miserable.

That car is an enthusiast’s car hidden in environmentalist’s clothing, and virtually nobody knows it because they fail to understand the car’s driving dynamics and therefore never realize that it’s actually fun.

It’s got surprisingly good acceleration once you quit fighting the computers for control and actually start communicating with them. (Hint: If you go wide-open-throttle, you’re going to have a bad time, roll into it instead, and never go past 60-75% and you’ll have a blast.)

It’s nimble and agile. The stopping power is superb, and the ride is comfortable. All of this while flying under the radar and getting phenomenal fuel economy.

I don’t know about you, but a car that delivers all of that actually sounds pretty good to me.

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Huber

I drive a 2014 prius and wide open throttle a lot and get decent results for fuel economy. could you explain why you should not wide open throttle?

Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt Huber

There’s what I call “Magic Carpet Mode,” where you find a comfortable, modest level to hold the accelerator pedal. Speed climbs: slowly, inexorably. Engine note barely changes, if at all. I especially love finding a long, straight level road with a modest speed limit. The car floats along at 48mph with the engine barely ticking over, and the MPG meter shows around 8-85. If I had a long enough road like that, the car could cover 1000 miles before filling.

LarsVargas
LarsVargas
1 month ago

The looks have grown on you because Toyota’s design language has gotten aggressively uglier over the years (although the newest Prius is gorgeous and they’re toning it down on other models too). So many new creases and unnecessary embellishments. These second-generation Priuses (I always said the plural of Prius is “Ennui”) still look odd and awkward and plain and all sorts of other things.

But they’re practical as all get out and absolutely comfortable to ride in. They are not, and never were intended to be, enthusiast cars. But they’re damn good transportation appliances without being too weird. Add in the true technological marvels they are and they absolutely deserve our collective respect.

Cam.man67
Cam.man67
1 month ago

I don’t hate the 2nd-gen Prius because it’s ugly or boring…I hate the 2nd-gen Prius because it’s literally the only car that I’ve ever ridden in that I will refuse to ride in again. I swear it’s the hum from the motor, or some sort of 60-cycle hum that’s going on, but I literally can’t be in one for more than 5 minutes without developing a terrible headache. Interestingly My wife and I have both had this experience on separate occasions in separate Priuses (Prii?). So is it a Prius trademark to make a weird l-frequency hum? I don’t know.

Typically noises in machinery and vehicles don’t bother me. Most of my trucks have exhaust leaks if they have exhausts at all. I wear hearing protection on my tractors, but 12 hours on an IH 856 is a lot of noise. None of that affects me. But the Prius? Man, that car kicks my butt.

Gerontius Garland
Gerontius Garland
1 month ago

One of my college buddies had a 2nd gen and I got to drive it. I don’t care how advanced or reliable or efficient it is, that car was absolutely miserable. It’s ugly, the dash is an unintuitive mess, and it was downright unnerving to drive. I’ve never been in a car so devoid of feedback. I couldn’t feel the road at all.

The Prius is the automotive equivalent of a lobotomy. Calling it an appliance would be an insult to my fridge, which is more exciting than this rolling blob of misery.

CRM114
CRM114
1 month ago

Does anyone know; since this basic motor is shared with other (non-Atkinson) Toyotas, can you put a hot (Otto-cycle) cam in it and run it on 93 or E30 to get some power out of its ~13:1 compression?

Aprtur
Aprtur
1 month ago
Reply to  CRM114

Short answer is yes. There’s a guy in New Zealand who swapped a 1NZ-FXE into a 3dr Yaris, rebuilt it with BMW motorcycle ITBs and Jun cams and the thing is utterly ridiculous. Link to follow below if you want to check it out:

https://youtu.be/y1e3MqI4T5U?si=4TFo158UegBb2cpg

Last edited 1 month ago by Aprtur
CRM114
CRM114
1 month ago
Reply to  Aprtur

Cool, thanks.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
1 month ago

Dear Toyota, take the current Prius drive train and put in the back of a new MR2, attach a manual transmission and profit.

Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago

I found a thread where a guy was moving a 1NZ-FXE into his Mister Two, but I don’t remember if the hybrid bits went with it. I’ll try to find it again.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
1 month ago

Can we start a petition that you can’t buy another i3 until you’ve purchased an Aztek??

67 Oldsmobile
67 Oldsmobile
1 month ago
Reply to  Brandon Forbes

Or finishing the overland Jeep,or fixing the Nash.

Brandon Forbes
Brandon Forbes
1 month ago
Reply to  67 Oldsmobile

Meh, I would love to hear about those but those are less important to me.

Tbird
Tbird
1 month ago

I own a 2014 Camry hybrid, overall a bigger Prius without the looks and a bigger (2.4L) gas engine. I still average 38 – 40 mpg with 230k+ on the odometer.

TDI in PNW
TDI in PNW
1 month ago

When the Prius came out, it was like following a Beetle. The people driving them in the beginning must have been hypermiling…? For a few years there, you did not want to get behind a Prius, any gen Prius. I thought they looked bland and I still hate the dashboard but I always thought hybrid tech was pretty cool, I just wished automakers wouldn’t style them so bizarre (back then).

Elhigh
Elhigh
1 month ago
Reply to  TDI in PNW

GenII also suffered from the Capacitor Plague, and there’s an issue with microcracks in the center display connectors. So in addition to bland, they can also be blank.

The styling isn’t bizarre, it’s just very aerodynamically efficient, and gives short shrift to making any concessions to (then-current) styling fashions to appear less avant-garde.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago

I’d like to have seen Toyota put the Prius drive train in the original Scion xB.

TheWombatQueen
TheWombatQueen
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

That would be lit

Jason Smith
Jason Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

You and me both… Hell, I’d even settle for the current Corolla Hatch.

CivoLee
CivoLee
1 month ago

The 3rd gen Prius fixed a lot of the 2nd gen’s aesthetic issues as well as created everyone on here’s (not in the actual market, hence its discontinuation) favorite, the Prius V. Plus the 5th gen hit it out of the park on looks, especially after the lemon-sucking origami mess of the 4th gen. If there were a Wikipedia entry (no one reads printed dictionaries anymore) for “trying too hard”, it’d have a picture of the 4th gen Prius near the top.

But here’s the real hot take: NO generation of the Prius should ever have existed in the first place.

Toyota, the automotive enthusiast community and the world in general would’ve been far better off if they’d just brought out a hybrid version of the RAV4 and/or Camry. They could’ve said, “Look at us, we managed to get subcompact econobox fuel mileage in a larger (read: “safer” in the eyes of the average consumer) vehicle!” But no, they went the risk-adverse corporate route and tied the technology to its own model in order to “test” the technology in the marketplace, which of course ended up costing them more money initially as they had to spend it on the additional development and marketing costs. Fortunately for them, it paid off and became a hit.

But in the process, they created a lightning rod for controversy on both sides, one being the holier-than-thou vegan eco-freaks saying anyone who’d drive anything else hates our Mother Earth and other being the “V8 or GFTO, I don’t wanna look like no treehugger in one of those” auto enthusiast crowd. And now not only have we set ourselves back two decades in terms of eco-friendly vehicle progress but we also have to package our EVs as existing-consumer-friendly crossovers and giant trucks to avoid threatening anyone’s fragile masculinity with-GASP-“Prius vibes”, both of which create the biggest problem many people have with EVs (besides charging times) – range anxiety.

Last edited 1 month ago by CivoLee
Viking Longcar
Viking Longcar
1 month ago
Reply to  CivoLee

You’re right about the 3rd gen, but for the point about a Camry, they did at the same time as the 2nd gen Prius: https://pressroom.toyota.com/album/2007-2009-toyota-camry-hybrid-first-1st-generation/#

Tbird
Tbird
1 month ago
Reply to  CivoLee

I own a second generation Camry hybrid. My take is Toyota should have put this drivetrain in EVERYTHING.

GreatFallsGreen
GreatFallsGreen
1 month ago
Reply to  CivoLee

I do think it still made sense for the first couple generations to make a purpose-built hybrid. But by the 2010s, they really should have done as you say, spreading it out to other model lines much sooner, rather than try to make the Prius sub-brand. Which they were doing in other markets internationally.

The Camry hybrid as referenced below was out there and they were slowly but surely expanding that, but the Highlander hybrid (which predated the Camry hybrid even) remained a rather quiet offering, retail sales mostly being loaded examples in the early 2010s.

Bassracerx
Bassracerx
1 month ago
Reply to  CivoLee

the prius was a stand out success wtf are you on about? they sold millions of them.

CivoLee
CivoLee
1 month ago
Reply to  Bassracerx

I never said otherwise. Did you read my post entirely?

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