By on January 21, 2011

Though not technically a new debut at this year’s Detroit Auto Show, the “Prius C” concept was probably the most interesting vehicle Toyota showed at Cobo Hall this year. If nothing else, it certainly shows the promise of an expanded Prius brand far better than the “Prius V.” And if there’s a single market where this “baby Prius” can give Toyota’s eco-brand spin-off a boost it would be Europe, where small, efficient cars rule. But, it seems, this is not to be. Autocar reports

The strength of the Japanese yen seems almost certain to keep a production version of Toyota’s near-80mpg hybrid supermini based on the Prius C Concept hatch out of Europe.

The Auris hybrid and forthcoming Yaris hybrid (with which the C Concept, revealed at the recent Detroit motor show, shares a platform) are built in the UK and France respectively, which gives them much stronger profit margins than a small Prius model sourced from Japan.

But isn’t spinning off a brand supposed to be about long-term marketing rather than short-term profits? Isn’t Toyota giving up on ever making its Prius brand a player in Europe by cannibalizing it with a Yaris Hybrid? And if so, why spin off the Prius brand at all? Against the backdrop of Hyundai/Kia’s recent passing of Toyota to become the top Asian automaker in Europe, this move seems all the more short-sighted and reactive. Especially considering that

despite the supermini being unlikely to reach Europe in production form, the concept has been conceived with European-flavoured driving characteristics. “European drivers demand a high level of agility and back in their driving, so our planning is taking that into account,” said chief designer Elvio d’Aprile.

It’s ironic: Toyota built itself into one of the most trusted brands in the world through sheer focus… and now it’s headed for an oh-for-two record on its brand spin-offs.


11 Comments on “Mini Prius Not For Europe… So Who Is It For?...”

  • avatar

    Being that a new factory devoted to the Prius has just opened in Thailand last November, and the Thai baht being weak means that there is a high-probability Toyota will build it there to export to the EU and Asia.
    Thailand already has an FTA with Japan, meaning Thai made cars can be sold to Japan tariff free.  They are striking a deal with the EU, and already have larger ASEAN region trade deals in place.  They have weak currency, cheaper labor than China, as well as good infrastructure (they also unfortunately have political instability).  There is a reason why Nissan builds their Micra/March in Thailand for sale in Japan and Europe.
    The Prius C likely won’t be launched in Europe as production will first start in Japan, but based on current trends a Thai built Prius C production is very likely.  Especially being that Toyota has gone through significant lengths in setting up a Prius supply chain in South East Asia.

  • avatar

    I’d call it one-for-three, with the obvious success that is Lexus.

    Keep in mind, Europe is a very different market than the US. Vehicles there are, on the average, far more economical, so the Prius’ exotic engineering and efficiency-related trade-offs produce much less drastic returns than they do in the US market compared with the competition. Japan simply loves anything futuristic, technologically innovative (even if it’s not particularly useful), and of course there are some home-market protection tarriffs there, so that helps explain the Prius’ success in its two biggest markets. Euro Prius sales last year were 1/3 the volume moved in the US, and 1/7th what the were in Japan. It doesn’t make much fiscal sense to launch the Prius brand in Europe, given the lower sales, smaller consumption differences, and related lack of success of the original model so far there.

    Total cumulative Prius sales just peaked 200,000 in Europe (for all three generations of the car) last Summer. During the same time, the US market consumed nearly a million of the vehicles.

    Japan’s No. 1 may not do everything right, but this seems like prudent caution rather than a wasted opportunity to me. If anything, they’ve learned their lesson on brand spin-offs in certain markets that didn’t work out (cough-Scion-cough).

    One final note: Europeans are far less brand-obsessive than Americans. Keep in mind, BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes, and Audis are taxicabs there, so a Prius brand may be far less likely to take flight as a successful idea on marketing merits alone there. Better to just incorporate the useful technology into the successful Toyota lineup than waste marketing money on launching a new brand that likely wouldn’t work out.

  • avatar

    This does not mention Toyota’s plans for the Prius C in the U.S. I assume they have plans to import it here, with a sticker price undercutting the regular Prius.

    If it’s fun to drive and as efficient as they say, I’d definitely be an interested party.

  • avatar

    Just thought I would take this opportunity to mention that I thought this was one of the most striking, reconciled, cohesive reveals of the past 12 months.

    I just cant stop looking at the styling of this vehicle. It really reveals the depth of Toyota design. I know it is a concept and all, but this styling language is among the best I have seen from any company in recent memory.

    It is a design language that I believe will emerge as Toyota’s over-archingg Prius design theme…

  • avatar

    It’s very possible that Toyota is feeling the cost pressure on the “regular” Prius and this car is an out that would allow them to raise it’s price to something sustainable while still offering a way for people to get into a hybrid at a relatively low price point.

  • avatar

    A proof for “European-inspired” shines through.

  • avatar

    Mini Prius is much better looking than the original.

  • avatar

    I’d like to see a tall wagon version of this design.  I like the styling a lot.  I think they could probable replace all their vehicles with Prius underpinnings.

  • avatar

    A convertible version of this car would hot.

  • avatar

    How long til we run out of places in the world that offers cheap labor (and no ecological standards and no worker safety rules)?

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