Toyota has announced the end of the road for its Prius petrol-electric hybrid series in Australia, though production continues for other markets around the world.
Launched here in October 2001 (exactly four years after being unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show), it was only the second modern hybrid vehicle to be sold in Australia, following on from the original Honda Insight that was released six months earlier.
But unlike the latter, which become only a curio footnote, the original Prius steadily gained traction with consumers, representing the world’s first mainstream production petrol-electric hybrid vehicle.
Sales really started climbing after celebrities were spotted driving their Priuses, particularly in California, making it seem like a free endorsement for the Toyota hybrid.
Toyota reportedly made significant losses on every unit of the early generation Priuses it built to help get the hybrid message across. But even the 2001 original remained comparatively affordable, starting from $39,990 before on-road costs ($64,000 altered for inflation, or nearly the same as what a Tesla Model 3 costs today).
All up, four generations of Prius were sold in Australia – the Californian-designed XW10 four-door sedan from 2001 to early 2003, followed by the famous XW20 five-door liftback, featuring an aero-optimised shape that has gently evolved over time into the XW30 (2009) and outgoing XW50 from 2015.
From the second Prius onwards, there was much shared with other Toyotas, namely the similarly sized Corolla. The 2015 version was also the first car in Australia to introduce the company’s lauded Toyota New Global Architecture, which has since been rolled out across most model lines.
Actual registrations in Australia do not match the influence that this car had and still has to this day.
To date, 20,847 examples have been sold of the main Prius series, or 35,947 if you add the smaller Prius C and larger Prius V people mover to the Australian tally. Oddly, the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) was never officially imported into this country.
But the Prius’ legacy transcends numbers, because of its democratisation of electrification across Australia as well as the rest of the world. Though only a niche player in terms of overall sales numbers, its technology was made available on more mainstream Toyotas – namely the Camry, Corolla, RAV4 and Kluger.
Beginning with the original Prius, it took 17 years for Toyota to sell 100,000 hybrid vehicles in Australia, and then just another four years to double that number. Over 60,000 units were registered in 2021 alone. For some Toyota models like RAV4, the share of hybrid demand exceeds 80 per cent.
Without the Prius’ hybrid influence, Toyota would likely not enjoy its majestic reign of the Australian motor industry. What’s more, while the nameplate and series may be gone, that legacy is serving as a springboard for the brand’s next phase of electrification (battery electric vehicles), as well as hydrogen-powered EVs starting with the Mirai.
Though technically a late 1990s creation, the Prius really is the Ford Model T of hybridisation.