Several carmakers now offer hybrid models of existing cars, but the number of dedicated full hybrids on the mass market has been exactly one for a decade: the Toyota Prius, now a line of four models.
The launch of the 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid, which we recently drove, doubles that number.
And the C-Max potentially poses the first serious threat to the Prius, although it's still likely to sell at far lower volumes.
Ford has said it can make up to 100,000 "electrified" vehicles (hybrid, Energi plug-in hybrid, and battery electric cars) a year, and that it expects about 75 percent of them to be conventional hybrids.
Split among the upcoming Fusion Hybrid and the C-Max Hybrid, that means that even if the C-Max outsells the hybrid Fusion two-to-one, you're looking at about 50,000 C-Max Hybrids under the best of circumstances.
By comparison, Toyota , and is on track to sell roughly 200,000 Prius Liftbacks during 2012, plus another 60,000 or so of the three additional models: the Prius V wagon, the Prius C subcompact, and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
Since 1997, Toyota has built more than 2 million Priuses of three generations.
Still, we think even at lower volumes, the C-Max Hybrid could pose a compelling alternative to the Prius. Here how we see it stacking up.
- It's a nicer car to drive than the Prius, and less stressed under heavy loads and hard acceleration
- Its 47-mpg rating is close enough to the Prius's 50 mpg that buyers probably won't see an appreciable difference
- The C-Max Hybrid has more interior room for people and cargo than the Prius Liftback (though not than the larger Prius V wagon)
- The interior is more conventional, nicely styled, and of a higher quality than the hard-plastic Space Age styling of the Prius
- It's a Ford, and while Ford hybrids are respected, the company has downplayed its hybrids in recent years to put marketing muscle behind its fuel-efficient EcoBoost gasoline engines
- Visually, the C-Max is either a tall five-door hatchback or a small minivan; it doesn't have the distinct, instantly identifiable profile of any Prius since 2004
- The Prius has held its resale value quite well, but the value of a used C-Max remains unknown--though the value of earlier Ford hybrids seems to have held up OK too
2012 Toyota Prius V station wagon, Half Moon Bay, CA, May 2011
For the record, yes, Honda has two dedicated hybrids as well--the Insight and CR-Z. But they're mild hybrids, and sales of both models have been far below the company's expectations.
There has also been the Lexus HS 250h sedan (now discontinued in the U.S.) and the CT 200h compact hybrid hatchback.
But the Lexus brand isn't necessarily where fuel-efficiency minded buyers think to turn, and Ford competes directly with Toyota in the mass market segments that count.
What do you think? Will the C-Max Hybrid have an impact on Prius sales? Will it grow the overall market for hybrids? Or will Toyota not even notice?
Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.