In some ways, the Prius is the Tesla Model III of a decade ago. During its heyday, from 2004 to 2009, the Prius established a base camp in super-hostile territory — mid-size family vehicles — and did ultimately conquer SOME enemy turf. Unlike Tesla, Toyota didn’t offer stirring performance, but still engineered its way into the automotive hall of fame by offering a compelling-enough alternative to the norm. The Prius made green vogue. It even grew into a family:
The regular Prius
The Prius C (for “city”)
The Prius V (for “versatile”)
The Prius Plug-In (for shits and giggles)
But the blush is fading from the rose. Even the Prius name is souring in social media, at least among a vocal minority of youth — probably the ones getting Prius hand-me-downs from their parents. Will incremental boosts in style (debatable), fuel economy, electric range and road manners in the 2016 Prius prove enough to keep the Prius family alive despite erosion of its fuel savings ROI? Or will the likes of the Tesla Model III, which could break into the high $20k range after tax incentives and prove immune from ROI concerns, render the Prius an amphibian oddity in the evolution of the automobile? A mere mudskipper?
Are pure EVs, led by Tesla, finally defeating range anxiety and approaching the alt-vehicle tipping point last breached by the Prius? The bigger question: Will pure EVs inflict more harm on gas cars than hybrids did? Yes, hybrids made money for Toyota and boosted the brand overall, but as a whole, hybrids didn’t change the world. Gas cars die hard.
Hybrids might die easier. Old-fashioned gassy, oily folks who’ve never considered a Prius may leapfrog that ol’ amphibian and land on the next lily pad, if the lure is great enough. And Prius fans might be ready to cut the cord to the gas world once and for all. In both cases, the primary lure wouldn’t be gas savings, or even greenness. Nope. The lure will be pure excitement — the old school motivator that Tesla has in abundance and Toyota is hurriedly trying to generate, apparently by aping the mighty . . . Mirai.