Toyota EV push starts with pre-loved Prius

A version of the Prius that enables a function beyond the regular edition – that is, ability to roam much further as an electric car – will soon be on New Zealand roads, but the sales strategy has a twist.


INABILITY to enter the emergent electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid sector with a brand-new model has spurred the country’s biggest car brand to look to its used car stock.

Intention to sell ex-Japan, previous generation Prius plug-in hybrid (PHEV) hatchbacks here was announced by Toyota New Zealand today at the introduction of another orthodox hybrid, a derivative of its best-selling Corolla.

The Palmerston North-based market leader says it hasn't discounted one day selling  brand-new plug-in electrics, starting with the Prius Prime PHEV that is about to retail in Japan and North America.

At the moment, though, the Prime is not available to NZ and, anyway, it will be too expensive for mass market tastes.

It feels it can better meet any everyman desire by selling the Prime’s predecessor.

TNZ knows this model: It has been trialling several examples for several years. However, it couldn't find a way of bringing the price down to a reasonable level, so never put it on sale. The venture seemed to have reached a dead-end when that generation was replaced by the gen four car earlier this year.

Now, though, it says it can lay hands on pre-owned gen three Prius PHEVs to sell for $35,000 to $40,000 – about 45 percent less than the car would have conceivably cost as a brand-new choice, a brand spokesman says.

 It will cherry pick used examples from Japan that are around three years old and have no more than 25,000 kilometres on the clock.

The cars will be sold by select dealers having first been refurbished in New Zealand. They will have five year warranties, with cover including the battery, and the promise of servicing back-up. Also, the cars' Japanese text displays have been converted to English. The cars also come with English language handbooks.

TNZ does not believe its image will be damaged by selling the used product. If anything, it says, the move will be celebrated by customer clamour for sensibly-priced EVs – a request that it says it cannot yet answer any other way.

“We are doing this for our customers – we think this best meets their needs,” general manager of sales Steve Prangnell says.

He related that a major corporate customer, having been let in on the plan ahead of today’s announcement, has already vowed to buy 40 of the cars.

Toyota here and globally is the world’s hybrid car leader; has moved more than nine million of them.

TNZ has sold more than 6500 new models since the first Prius landed in 2003 and its biggest selling model, the Camry hybrid, achieves around 80 percent penetration of the country’s top echelon taxi fleets. The Palmerston North-based operation also knows used import hybrids are popular: There are around 5000 ex-Japan Prius cars here.

It perceives a good future for hybrids, foreseeing more growth here and internationally. Locally it expects to add more models. The next is likely going to be a RAV4 but others are also in the queue, including even the Hilux.

However, it also recognizes that plug-in hybrids are of growing importance.

The Government’s electric car plan announced in May supports such cars while ignoring regular hybrids.

That's a blow to TNZ, which is the hybrid king here, with six Toyotas - Prius, Prius c, Prius V, two versions of Camry and now the Corolla - and eight of the nine battery-aided cars that Lexus creates.

Prangnell is not impressed by the Government determining that regular hybrids do not categorise as electric cars.

He says it is his personal view – not necessarily TNZ’s – that the Government is dreaming in thinking there could be 64,000 electric cars on NZ roads by 2021. That aim was stated by Transport Minister Simon Bridges on May 5.

Prangnell also says the $6 million set aside to encourage and support innovative low vehicle emission technologies is vastly insufficient. He believes it should be $50m.

All the same, the gen three Prius PHEV that TNZ is targeting will be considered an EV though it is unlikely to match the latest full and range-extender models already here (or soon to arrive) for electric-only range.

An ability to reach up to 100kmh and achieving 20-25kms’ range on electric power alone is a massive step up from the standard Prius, which can only operate at low speed and for a couple of kilometres on its battery-only impetus. Yet the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, the Audi A3 e-tron and the BMW i3 BEV do better still.

But TNZ says it cannot go there. It cites that even though Audi, BMW, Mitsubishi and Renault are all striving to sell brand-new electric-prioritised cars, all are expensive, cost at least $60,000 with most in the $70,000-plus band.

TNZ believes that is too much for the market to stomach. It says that EVs and PHEV cars have cumulatively achieved just 121 registrations to date this year.

Prangnell says the used import strategy is not a short-term proposal but it likely to maintain if TNZ achieves ability to sell the Prime, that was announced at the New York motor show in March.

However he warns the Prime will be expensive and TNZ still doesn’t know when, or even if, it can get it. The major markets of  Japan, China and the United States have first dibs.

In March TNZ general manager Spencer Morris – who missed today’s Toyota conference because he is in Japan – said he preferred Prius Prime over the gen three Prius PHEV because it offered huge improvement, being much more efficient and quicker to recharge.

Toyota is claiming the Prime is the most efficient plug-in hybrid to date, with a claimed fuel economy figure of 2.0 litres per 100km – by comparison, the $38,490 Corolla Hybrid introduced today has a cited best of 4.1 litres. The Prime is said to be 26 percent more thrifty than the gen three Prius PHEV. It also goes further and faster on battery-pure thrust and the combined battery and petrol range is greater, being estimated at 965km.