Toyota’s Prius Family Charges Ahead

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The market for all-electric cars continues to slump, with the bankruptcy filing of one of its largest suppliers of batteries, struggles for Nissan’s Leaf, and the continued difficulty of the top end of the EV market, Fisker, to get over the hump.

But meanwhile, the market for hybrids continues to brighten — espeically if that hybrid has a Prius nameplate. Toyota continues to extend its dominance of the hybrid-electric market by promoting its Prius family of four models. Having left its competitors’ hybrids in the relative dust, Toyota now is girding for an effort by Ford to plug (so to speak) its own hybrid-only sub-brand, C-Max.

In fact, Prius now is doing so well in America’s biggest hybrid market, California, that it has passed long-time leaders Honda Civic and Honda Accord to become the No. 1-selling vehicle line of any kind in the state.[more]

Prius is the 12th-best seller in the US among all vehicle types this year and seventh by sales volume among car models, according to Autodata figures, but more is at play here than the fact that Toyota has broadened its lineup of Prius versions to fit various budgets and demographics, and that its original model continues to sell well.

Californians, in particular, have been suffering from record-high gasoline prices that are spiking demand for really fuel-efficient cars. “Gas prices are up 80 cents per gallon in California over the national average,” Alec Gutierrez, senior market analyst for Kelley Blue Book in Irvine, Calif., told Bloomberg. “That’s really driving up the appeal of hybrids, as well as plug-in vehicles in California.”

There’s no telling when or if all-electric models will reach the kind of popularity that Prius has. The Toyota nameplate has basically abandoned hopes for high-volume all-electric cars in the U.S. anytime soon. Leaf’s sales woes have prompted Nissan to plan to launch a budget model. Yet Ford and other makers are still in the process of introducing new EV models.

Fisker is competing with an all-electric proposition against high-end luxury sports cars and sedans that are conventionally powered. As a car, the $102,000 Fisker Karma has attracted lots of attention and many sales from celebrities and other rich folks. But as a business proposition, Fisker remains dogged by the problems of the EV industry as well as its own particular challenges.

Below, watch Nissan EVP Andy Palmer discussing the strategy and outlook for the Nissan Leaf at the recent 2012 World Business Forum in New York, in a panel discussion moderated by Interbrand global CEO Jez Frampton and also featuring Adobe SVP of global marketing Ann Lewnes:

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