Toyota Prius

What Car Company Wants to Unseat Prius as the #1 Hybrid Car?

There is a marketing term, one that’s been around for awhile, called “top of mind”.  It’s what marketers want you to remember when you say the name or category of a product.  “Kleenex” is the classic example.  Ask the average person for a “Kleenex” and they’re more than likely to look for a box of tissues to hand you.  If you can get your product or brand to that height in people’s minds, then you’ve succeeded.

“Prius” is to hybrid car what “Kleenex” is to tissues.  If you tell a person you own a hybrid car, I can guarantee their mental image is that of a Prius.  It’s not a Honda Insight.  Nor is it a Ford Escape hybrid.  The Prius is the granddaddy, the one that started it all.  It’s the one that Al Gore’s kid got pulled over doing 100 mph in; which prompted interest not because it was Al Gore’s kid.  Rather it was the fact that a Prius could go 100 mph.

Fast forward a couple of decades or so.  Prius has blossomed and even extended its brand with 3 models based on size.  It is the king.

But as they say, “the king is dead, long live the king”.  Someone else is stepping up to challenge the Prius.  And it’s not necessarily who you’d think.  You’d think it’s someone like Tata, a car company sitting on an exploding market that is India.  But it is not.  Or  you might think it would be the BMW Group.  They’ve got solid hybrid technology, a strong bottom line, and a brand that would make people pause and consider their product in a head-to-head against Prius.  Not them either.

Ford Motor Company

It’s Ford.  Yes, the Ford Motor Company.  The only US carmaker that didn’t take bailout money.  The people who brought us the Taurus, the new Mustang, and the Fusion.  They’re the same people who have had a very strong European production and sales arm since the 60’s.  They’ve got a good bottom line, as well as a brand that is solid.  “Fix or Repair Daily” is an old canard, one completely not applicable to the Fords of today.

When I saw this in last week’s  Automotive News, I had to recalibrate and remember how big, strong and stealthy Ford really is:

 Ford Motor Co. plans to introduce a new gasoline-electric hybrid in late 2018 to compete against the Toyota Prius, two sources with knowledge of the company’s plans said.

The compact will be Ford’s first “dedicated” hybrid — that is a vehicle designed to be marketed exclusively as a hybrid, rather than a variation of an existing gasoline model, such as the automaker’s Fusion hybrid, the sources told Reuters.

The new hybrid, which carries the internal code C240, will be built on Ford’s new C2 global compact architecture, which also will underpin the next-generation Focus and Escape, the sources said.

The sources said Ford eventually could offer several different body styles of the new hybrid, as Toyota does with the Prius. There would be different versions of the car’s gasoline-electric drivetrain, including a more expensive plug-in model that can be recharged from an electrical outlet.

Notice the article didn’t say “introduce a new hybrid” or something similarly watered down.  They said:

Ford Motor Co. plans to introduce a new gasoline-electric hybrid in late 2018 to compete against the Toyota Prius

They’re throwing the gauntlet down.  Ford has clearly decided that 20 years is long enough for one car and car company to dominate a sector.

Ford wants to produce and sell 120,000 of these C240s annually by 2019.  Will there be demand?  Yes.  As government mileage and emissions requirements get more stringent, we will start buying hybrids and diesels because they will be the only way automakers can stay in business.

Having said that…some of you may be reminded of those that argue about “big gubmint getting in the way of the little people,” or the market or whatever.  Remember that in 2008 this is the same bunch that wanted you to drive your 8-cylinder SUV even more, no matter that regular was $5/gallon in some places.  Today this bunch is railing against global warming (but not necessarily climate change), anything Obama, and most things that generally make sense.  You choose who you want to listen to.  Actually since you’re at a site called @greencarsgofast, you’ve probably already decided.

By the way, that bunch won’t share this nugget with you about Prius either.  From the article:

Prius, which has been sold in North America since 2000, remains the leading hybrid in global markets. Its U.S. sales in the first seven months of this year are down 11 percent to 127,776. Last year, worldwide sales of the Prius topped 400,000.

So it can be done, because it is being done.

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Sebastian James

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