Okay, let’s get something straight. The Toyota Prius, the world’s biggest-selling hybrid car, and the pioneer of the petrol-electric genre, is not sold in Malaysia. But there is a slim chance it might be—if we pay attention to what’s been happening in neighboring Thailand recently.
It’s complicated but we will break it down. Last week, several Priuses turned up at the Chang Circuit in Buriram, Thailand, to compete in the 10-hour endurance race this weekend. In addition to the Prius 24-hour Le Mans Centennial GR Edition, the version that shocked everyone was the multicoloured Prius race-spec driven by none other than Toyota Chairman himself, Akio Toyoda, who goes by the nickname of Morizo. That was in addition to yet one more stock standard Prius road car painted in a Maximum Yellow hue.
So what does this sudden high-profile Prius display mean for ASEAN?
First, we should just mention that while the Prius is not yet available in Southeast Asia, the Prius was unveiled at the Bangkok Motor Show some nine months ago, an occurrence that started raising eyebrows and expectations.
So, this racing Prius turned up alongside a hydrogen-powered Corolla race car and GR86 race machine, which are all powered by hydrogen. The racing-spec Prius was part publicity stunt, and part development exercise for a new hybrid engine that runs on carbon-neutral synthetic fuel, while retaining the base car’s hybrid system.
But even with all that Prius action happening in neighbouring Thailand, the question that the Malaysian market has is — when will the Prius arrive here, or will it ever arrive? Like Malaysia, Thailand never imported the fourth generation Prius, and the third generation variant was the only Prius that was sold there. The fact that Toyota has focused so much attention on the Prius over the past week at the Thai racetrack tends to suggest that the company is seriously considering launching the car in at least one ASEAN market, most probably more.
The media assembled at the track posed the question to Toyoda whether the Prius would be launched in Thailand and his reply was coy, saying “Maybe it depends on our results in this race, please cheer for us.” At least it was not a ‘no.’
Apparently, the bottom line all comes down to price. The fact is that few Toyota Prius models are sold in the U.S. at their listed price. Demand for the new Prius is surprisingly strong given its innovative design and better handling and performance, which adds a premium onto the price of the cars, causing their price to shoot to 30% higher than standard list prices.
That means that the Prius’ price would exceed that of a Tesla Model 3, and in Malaysia, if the same price hiking occurred, buyers would not pay such an elevated fee. While prices are still unclear, though, an educated guess puts the Prius price in Malaysia at around or just below RM250,000, which kind of prices itself out of the market. Or is Toyota able to pull a rabbit out of a hat here? Time will tell.