Monday, February 1, 2016

Family Breakup?

Akio Toyoda at the 2015 Tokyo Auto Show, you know who that is behind him

The worst part of reading anything in the media, especially "these days" is the linkbait factor. It's always been an issue, as long as there have been headlines. But, the modern era has brought the complicating factors of linking and views and ads and, well, like I said, it's complicated.

So it's tough to tell, from this story, if it's based on solid reporting and reliable information or yet another navel gazing piece that started as the germ of a good idea but could not be corroborated.

Here's where we start...
In early 2011, as Toyota was set to spread the Prius name to the subcompact C, the V station wagon and a plug-in hybrid, the automaker issued a bold prediction: the Prius family of vehicles would be Toyota's best-selling nameplate in the U.S. by the end of the decade.
 To do that, the Prius would need to usurp the Camry and its gargantuan sales volumes, as well as fellow heavyweights Corolla and RAV4. It was a good time to make such a bet. Gasoline prices had been climbing steadily since 2008 and the Prius name was steeped in loyalty and reputation as the industry's go-to vehicle for fuel thriftiness.
Five years later, things have changed.
Indeed they have. And one of the great things the article I linked to below (this one) explains is why gas prices have been taking an unprecedented dive.

So we have a violently competitive gasoline market acting in a way no one predicted resulting in market disrupting gas prices and, in this case, upsetting the best laid plans of mice and Toyota. More specifically, suddenly, the Prius family, to some of the executives in Toyota in Japan and in America, isn't looking like such a great idea, according to the story we linking to. And I say all that because part of me hopes this isn't true. If Toyota is really taking such a shortsighted view of products it takes years to create, well, that, in my opinion, is a recipe for disaster for them.

But...
"Toyota has always demonstrated a very, very long-term attitude towards their powertrain planning," said Ed Kim, vice president of industry analysis at AutoPacific. "They're not doing plans based on what fuel prices will be next year."
Says someone not in a position to make decisions at Toyota.

Meanwhile, someone who is very much in the position to make decisions says...

"Given all the changes in consumers' preferences right now, I don't think we're forecasting the Prius to be our top volume seller anymore," said Bill Fay, Toyota Division general manager.
Toyota plans to "reinvest" in the C and V, Fay confirmed, but he said it was too early to say whether they'd be back for a second generation in the U.S. 
Well, that second generation decision is going to be made pretty soon and if so, in the worst possible environment for those programs continuation.

And Mr. Fay's boss said...
"We'll have to see how well the RAV4 Hybrid does," Lentz said. "Because the RAV4 could really take the place of the Prius V."
So, uh, yeah, there's that. The idea of replacing a 44MPG vehicle with a 34MPG vehicle. Three years that would have been, I would guess, mostly unthinkable. But with gas hovering between $1 and $2 a gallon throughout most of the US, Toyota isn't the only carmaker looking for the chance to jump right back on the very profitable SUV and truck bandwagon. And yes, that's sad.

The problem, as I see it, is this. First we have the oh-so tempting low hanging fruit of being able to go back to making trucks and SUVs again with cheap gas. Even as Toyota inexplicably dumps millions into Mirai, we see them taking the Prius Plug-in off the market for a year, we see how badly the c and v have aged. We've seen Prius leapfrogged by other vehicles in several areas. So, I think, it's not just low gas prices, it's also some missteps from Toyota and not keeping their brand halo polished as we as they could. I owned a 2012 c, I know what that car was like. It was not a great ownership experience and that differs, significantly, from the marvelous experiences I had with my 2005 and 2010 standard Priuses.

It will be very interesting to see where Toyota is going with all of this.

Hint: Watch RAV4 hybrid sales. They could be bellwether for Toyota on hybrids in general.

And go read the entire story at Automotive News, it's a good read and there's more information there as well.