It might have been a quirk of available inventory, or an effect of the regionalized nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, or maybe it was just the economics. Regardless of the cause, a remarkable thing happened at Toyota dealerships last month as the more expensive RAV4 hybrid outsold the nonhybridized versions of the nation's bestselling crossover.
The feat, albeit by a slim margin — Toyota sold 17,051 hybrid RAV4s in June across the U.S., vs. 17,042 nonhybrid RAV4s — marked the first time in Toyota's 3-year-old lineup-wide hybridization strategy that a model with an electrified powertrain has outsold the internal-combustion engine model on which it was based.
The result also helps validate the Japanese automaker's notion that consumers are not only willing to pay extra for added fuel economy, but that they're willing to open up their wallets if, like the RAV4 hybrid, the electrified powertrain also delivers added power and torque — which could be key as Toyota plans hybrid pickups.
"We're learning a lot, as a brand, about how do we market hybrids, so certain vehicles are going to be marketed a certain way, and with RAV4, it's more about the performance and the overall package," explained Andrew Gilleland, vice president of sales for the Toyota division.
"We've been pretty public about wanting to have about 25 percent of our mix be hybrid, but I do think we'll probably be higher than that 25 percent because of the value story and the fact that you can get an all-wheel drive with the added power and fuel economy for a $950 premium."
Indeed, Toyota's pricing on its hybrids has been aggressive, something that has helped dealers sell consumers on their benefits. According to EPA estimates and based on fuel prices and 15,000 miles per year, a consumer would make up the added cost of the hybrid RAV4 in fuel savings in less than three years.
"It doesn't take much convincing at all, because of the fuel savings," for consumers to choose the hybrid RAV4, said Jason Quenneville, general manager of White River Toyota in White River Junction, Vt.
Quenneville said Toyota Motor North America "stepped up with their incentives" on RAV4 hybrids in June because of the coronavirus-related inventory shortages of the nonhybrid versions, which likely contributed to the sales mix. But even before that, the hybrid crossover has been selling well month after month.