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Toyota Prius c hybrid among hottest-selling small cars in years

March 29, 2012|By Jerry Hirsch, Los Angeles Times
  • This Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 photo shows the 2013 Toyota Prius c during its debut at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
This Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2012 photo shows the 2013 Toyota Prius c during its… (Paul Sancya / AP )

Toyota Motor Corp. has been saying it has a hit with its new Prius c five-door hatchback, the smallest hybrid in the Prius family, and now there's independent analysis that shows it is one of the hottest small cars to hit the market in many years.

In its first three days on the market this month, Toyota sold more than 1,200 of the subcompact hybrid. It starts at $18,950, but a mid-grade version has a sticker price of $21,635.

To put the 1,200 sales in perspective, auto analyst Jessica Caldwell pointed out that many cars, including the similarly small but non-hybrid Smart Fortwo and even Toyota's Scion XD, didn't sell even 1,000 units last month.

Caldwell said the Prius c has the opportunity to make a dent in the subcompact market, which includes well reviewed vehicles such as the Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Hyundai Accent.

According to data about what car shoppers research on the Internet, the new Prius model is "already the third most considered vehicle in the subcompact segment with 10% of those shoppers taking a look," Caldwell said. "This is pretty significant because awareness is generally low when a vehicle launches so the fact it came on so strong shows a lot of interest and market receptiveness."

The Edmunds data show that people shopping for Honda's Insight hybrid, the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle also are taking a serious look at the Prius c, which like those cars has seen consumer interest increase with rising gas prices.

But the data also show some risk for Toyota.

The new Prius may cannibalize sales the automaker might have otherwise notched. Nearly 18% of the shoppers researching the new Prius plug-in electric hybrid also are looking at the Prius c, according to Edmunds. Additionally, more than 11% of the buyers researching the larger Prius v station wagon as well as more than 5% of those considering the new Camry hybrid also are eyeing the Prius c.

At 157 inches, the new Prius is almost 20 inches shorter than the classic Prius hatchback. It also is about 2 inches narrower in width and 2 inches shorter in height. Toyota said the vehicle, which gets about 50 miles to the gallon — is designed for driving in traffic-congested cities and for easy parking.

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