The 2016 Toyota Prius had its global debut Tuesday in Las Vegas. The main message at the premiere was not fuel economy. It was looks and handling.
Sure, almost every car in the world is sold on looks and handling, but that’s a huge change in direction for the most fuel-efficient car on the market that doesn’t have a plug. Toyota didn’t totally step away from that message. After all, it expects the Prius, when it goes on sale early in 2016, to get a combined 55 mpg.
It’s not a problem unique to the Prius, either. Fuel efficiency is an almost impossible selling point when the national price for gas is $2.39, according to AAA, which predicts prices could fall below $2. That’s great for us as consumers, but lousy for Toyota as it introduces its latest and greatest hybrid vehicle.
Chevrolet will face the same problem as it introduces its hybrid Chevrolet Volt that can run on full electric power and resort to a gas engine when the juice runs out. It was introduced as having an improved 53 miles of range on electric power and total range of 430 miles.
But the company is hedging its bets with the Volt roll-out in the coming months. The 2016 model will be available in only 11 states that follow the California Air Resources Board standards, according to TorqueNews.com. It says the vehicle will be available nationwide only when the 2017 model gets introduced. It might be wise of Chevrolet not to overcommit resources to the new vehicle until it gets a better sense of the market. Plus, by focusing on the CARB states, it will go where the customers are.
As Forbes reports, prices of used electric vehicles have lost their power. Some are selling for 20 percent of their original value after three years. (Granted, the Tesla Model S does have a residual value of 57 percent.) That’s compared to a gas-powered vehicle average around 47 percent.
That’s not to say the new Prius and Volt aren’t compelling vehicles. That 53-mile EV-only range for the Volt is great considering most people drive less than 40 miles a day. You could easily make it through your day and recharge your batteries at home at night.
The Prius will finally come with a decent ride and handling, thanks to an all-new rear double-wishbone suspension. Other advancements include things like smaller, lighter hybrid-system components and higher energy density in the batteries. Another improvement concerns the gas engine, which has what Toyota calls “ground-breaking thermal efficiency.” All those factors contribute to the fuel economy numbers jumping 10 percent—and even higher for a planned Eco version.
Plus, fuel prices probably won’t always be this low, some experts say. A sudden spike in gas prices to the $4 mark could make electric and hybrid vehicles much more desirable once again. Right now, though, they’re mainly desirable only if you’re trying to get good transportation at a low price, especially on the used car market.
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