Comparing Early Criticism of Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt

By · March 14, 2012

Chevy Volt

Will the Chevy Volt's sales volumes follow the exponential growth curve similar to the Toyota Prius?

How's the Chevrolet Volt similar to the original Toyota Prius that debuted in the US back in 2000? A dozen years ago, the Prius was considered by some to be a revolutionary vehicle, years ahead of its time. However, critics said the Prius was so strange or extreme or ugly or whatever, that it would forever be a flop. Fast forward to today. Some 2.5 million-plus sales later, the Toyota Prius is considered a major success, that has spawned an entire family of vehicles.

In the early days, the Prius was the subject of intense debate and ridicule, much the way the Chevy Volt is today. Daily Finance turned up some quotes worth reviewing:

1: "With most subsidies, the government pays someone to produce something that no one wants to buy. But what happens when the government pays people to buy something that no one wants to produce?"

2: "Taxpayers are rightly grumpy about ponying up a ... subsidy on a car that is generally priced around [no clues!]. People who will spend [that much] for a small four-passenger car don't need a subsidy."

3: "It is not, repeat, not the wave of the future. It's just too impractical for a large number of everyday drivers."

4: "Obviously, these cars can't achieve profitability under any reasonable sales projections."

5: "News stories about the popularity of these vehicles simply aren't true. There's a waiting list ... but that's because [Automaker X] will only ship 12,000."

6: "Taxpayers and corporations can't prop up this flop forever. ... management should end the misery before being told off by the voters, the markets and its own technology."

Toyota Prius sales chart

Sales of the Toyota Prius started off slow, but grew exponentially as the years went by. The release of the second-generation Prius, and a rise in gas prices, were a major turning point.

So, which quotes apply to the Toyota Prius and which are slams of the Chevy Volt? Quotes number one, four and five—all directed at knocking the Toyota Prius—are attributed to the Cato Institute back in 2001. The remaining quotes, also attributed to the Cato Institute, were published in recent editorials slamming the Chevy Volt.

The success of the Toyota Prius proves that Cato Institute was premature in declaring the death of a new high-tech green car. The potential future success of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, including the Chevy Volt, could again prove naysayers wrong.


· Chief Mechanic (not verified) · 6 years ago

I think the interesting thing to note about the graph of Prius sales is that the Prius really took off in 2004-- When the completely-redesigned second generation Prius came onto the market.

The first-generation Prius was a subcompact 4-door sedan that resembled the old Toyota Echo, with limited utility because of its small size. The second-generation Prius was enlarged to a midsized 5-door hatchback, able to seat 5 and has a much bigger cargo volume, along with better fuel economy and a much-improved Hybrid Synergy Drive. All this without significantly increasing the price.

The challenge facing GM if they want to make the Volt as successful as the second-generation Prius is thus: GM has to bring out a second-generation Volt that is better in every way than the first, without increasing the price.

Can it be done? Considering GM's past flubs, I'm not so sure.

· · 6 years ago

Interesting that it was 7 years before the Prius really really took off. Hehe, five more years to go I guess for the Volt/Leaf. :)

· Eyedrmike (not verified) · 6 years ago

@tterbo and @ Chief Mecahanic: although the redesign of the Prius was a huge help, there are other points to consider:
1) gasoline prices did not start rising until early 2004.
2) Prius has had a long installed history showing that batteries really don't self-destruct (in spite of what the idiot right wing wags claim!) so the path is cleared for more wide-spread adoption of EV and EREV automobiles. The word "Hybrid" no longer provokes widespread ridicule, and as gasoline prices continue to rise (which they will, absent a global economic downturn) people will start to look at cost of ownership rather than just purchase price.

· · 6 years ago

If GM will streamline the powertrain and the battery support system of the Volt they can cut out a big chunk of the price without decreasing performance. If they do that in a Gen 2 the price will drop and sales will soar.

If GM continues to bring every department in their organization along for the ride then the price will stay high and they will be overtaken by other plug-in hybrids with small, mechanically disconnected generators.

· priusC (not verified) · 6 years ago

Prii will rule 4vr.

· · 6 years ago

> Prii will rule 4vr.

Not if they keep burning gasoline. The new Plug-in Prius is a good start in securing its future.

· Iletric (not verified) · 6 years ago

Timing belt changes, 100-thousand miles transmission breakdowns, spark plug changes, oil changes, air filter changes, coolant changes, starter replacements, dead batteries every 3 years -- help me out, there is more...


Wake up folks. Leaf is the sweetest ride in...centuries. It is a privilege to actually being able to drive this thing. There is no turning back.

· · 6 years ago

The Prius has a piece of every part of Toyota, just like the Volt does with GM. Functionally, the PIP and Volt are identical. The only difference is the addition of a few clutches and brakes and sizing of components.

· MaxBob McDermand (not verified) · 6 years ago

The Prius and the Volt are not similar. The Prius is a gas engine vehicle with a small battery and a mid sized electric motor. The Volt has a two electric motors and a Much larger battery. I predict that the next generation Volt has a slightly larger battery and a slightly smaller gas engine and so it goes...

Max Bob

· Anonymouse Volt (not verified) · 6 years ago

I have driven my Volt 5600 miles since June of 2011. It has burned less than 2 gallons of gas in that time, so I have yet to visit a gas station with it, aside from buying a gallon for my weed trimmer. I'd like to see a Prios do that!

Since my solar panels provide more than enough to charge it each day, I have also not paid for any extra electricity driving it.

I am expecting to need to put some gas in it come June, since the car is programmed to use up year old fuel to keep it from going stale. 9.3 gallons in a year, I can live with that. Next year should be less, since I do not really have to fill the tank, I'll just put a few gallons in like the owner's manual says. I do expect to have to get the oil changed after two years as well. And maybe change the cabin air filter. New tires eventually, but the brakes still have honing marks on them, so I suspect the pads will last a decade or more.

· · 6 years ago

> Leaf is the sweetest ride in...centuries

You should meet my 2002 Toyota Rav4EV.

· · 6 years ago

> I have driven my Volt 5600 miles since June of 2011. It has burned less than 2 gallons of gas in that time <

I already know that I'm going to sound REALLY annoying with my comment here... regardless, here it is:

I have ridden my bike more miles than that since June of 2011. And I haven't burned ANY gas in it. Let's see the Volt do that!

But anyway... I'm thrilled that you're happy with the car. I only wish we weren't pushing our little bags of protoplasm around in 3-4,000 pound vehicles regardless of the propulsion system.

How's *that* sound from a big EV advocate?

· · 6 years ago

The Prius and the Volt are ???not??? similar . . . small battery . . . mid sized electric motor . . . two electric motors . . . Much larger battery. . . . slightly larger battery . . . slightly smaller gas engine . . .

I think you're just concurring with what I said:
"The only difference is the addition of a few clutches and brakes and sizing of components."

· Andres (not verified) · 6 years ago

I own a compressed gas / gasoline "hybrid" vehicle. I always have to start the engine on gasoline and never leave the gasoline tank empty.
Every month I have to empty the gasoline tank (use it) and refill a little bit (1 or 2 gallons). This is a bit anoying. How does it work with the Volt? Can anyone explain clearly?
If I dont do this, the gasoline gets like roubber and the car stops working...I have been there!

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

"Timing belt changes, 100-thousand miles transmission breakdowns, spark plug changes, oil changes, air filter changes, coolant changes, starter replacements, dead batteries every 3 years -- help me out, there is more..."

The Volt has a timing chain (doesn't need replacing), it has no traditional transmission (no maintenance). Oil changes every two years. Spark plugs 100k, coolant 200k miles. The starter is the motor/generator and the battery has a warranty of 8 years/100k miles. On top of that the Volt's ICE has about a 30 percentage duty cycle, so it's not being used that much to wear it out.

· Iletric (not verified) · 6 years ago

I thought oil was to be changed every 6 moths in an ICE no matter what, even if it's driven only a 1000 miles. Per automechanics and dealers.

· · 6 years ago

> Per automechanics and dealers

Per the people who stand to make money on it, that makes lots of sense. Logic and reality tells us otherwise, however. I know a guy who has an inop car on blocks... and he dutifully changes the oil every few months since that's what the manual says. Good lord.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 6 years ago

After the war against Iraq in March 2003, gasoline prices took off. Notice that in 2002, just before the war, the Prius sold about 30,000 the entire year. It escalated during the first 9 months of the war, and by 2004 was over 125,000 a year. This may be one of the few (albeit unintentional) positive things Bush and his gang ever did for the environment. It is hard for most people to buy something that different while gas is $2 a gallon! ***** The Chevrolet Volt is an excellent vehicle. Consumer Reports says that it has the highest owner satisfaction rating by CR readers of any current vehicle. It gives you the ability to pay only the equivalent of 133 mpg in terms of fuel cost while you are in electric mode, and gives you 36 mpg in gasoline mode. How is that a failure??? I have no doubt that the improved 2013 model, out in a few months, will far exceed the sales of the Prius in its 5th year. And 2013 will only be the Volt's 3rd year.

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

The timing chain of the Volt will have to be replace at some point. It will stretch and no longer function.

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