Tesla stealing Toyota Prius drivers

Tesla Model S Red
© Tesla Motors

I'll just put it out there right from the start: electric cars are worlds better than conventional hybrid vehicles in numerous ways. There's no doubt about it. They have much better efficiency, excellent acceleration (instant torque!), are super quiet and smooth to drive, really get us off of oil (don’t just reduce our oil use slightly), have zero tailpipe emissions, can be powered using sunlight, and require a tiny amount of maintenance (no oil changes, transmission problems, busted tubes, broken mufflers, engine problems, or smog checks).

Of course, several of those benefits are environmental benefits. We may not typically think of the rich as being that environmentally conscious, but many of them actually are. Proof of that is that many rich people drive a Toyota Prius or other conventional hybrid in order to reduce their footprint — when they could be driving a luxury vehicle instead. Of course, now that they've got greener vehicles to choose from, many are jumping ship to electrics, especially the Tesla Model S.

A recent study from Polk Automotive found that the largest percentage of Tesla's "conquest sales" (sales to people who are coming from another brand... which is basically everyone in Tesla's case) come from Toyota (15.5%), and most of those people had previously owned a Toyota Prius.

Let's just point out two big differences between the Model S and the Prius here:

1) The starting price for a Toyota Prius is $24,200, while the starting price for a Tesla Model S is $71,070 before incentives, $63,570 after the federal tax credit, and $61,070 in California after the state rebate. That's a very different class of vehicle.

2) The Toyota Prius gets a fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon (MPG). The Tesla Model S, despite being capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds (according to Motor Trend), gets a 95 MPG equivalency. How does such a performance car get about twice the "fuel economy" of a Prius? Because electric motors are much more efficient than gasoline engines.

Electric cars offer much greener transportation with numerous other benefits, including much better driving performance. However, the benefits are not only benefits compared to hybrids, but also compared to gasmobiles. As we’ve noted before, the Model S is considered the best mass-manufactured car in the world. Much of that is due to qualities that only electric cars offer.

When it comes to directly comparing electric cars to hybrids, what do hybrids really offer now?

They offer a lower upfront cost, but also a much higher operational cost. They offer more range, but many electric cars (especially the Model S) offer all the range a typical driver needs. And on the few days of the month when you might want or need to take a very long trip, you can simply rent a car. As batteries continue to improve and fast-charging stations grow in number, the trips where a gas tank is useful get more and more seldom.

How many more Toyota Prius owners will be poached when Tesla comes out with its 200-mile, $40,000 electric car? Or when Nissan doubles the range of its $28,800 fully electric Leaf?

I think TreeHugger managing editor Lloyd Alter said it best earlier today: “I think they are going to kill hybrids.”

But it’s not only hybrids. When you’ve got cars with better efficiency than a hybrid and also better performance than a gasmobile, it’s what the economics world calls “disruptive technology.”

Actually, I love the point Jay Leno made after testing out an electric motorcycle: if it were reversed and electric vehicles were dominant today, who would put up with the noise, pollution, inefficiency, and tremendous maintenance needs of gasmobiles?

Tesla stealing Toyota Prius drivers
Who'd switching to Tesla? Owners of BMW, Mercedes, and Audi luxury vehicles, but also a whole ton of Toyota Prius drivers.

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