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商业 - 汽车

丰田借普锐斯做大混合动力车型市场

Doron Levin 2012年04月16日

历经三年坎坷,带着满身创伤,日本汽车巨头丰田正试图卷土重来。现在,将普锐斯这一品牌扩展到多款车型是其战略的重点。

    替代燃料汽车、包括油电混合动力车为数众多,但有一个事实却很少为人提及。这些车虽然燃油经济性更好,但车主从中省下的花费往往需要数年才能与为了它们的先进技术而额外支付的前期成本相抵。全新时尚绿色车型的生产商发现,这一点可能会影响到销量。

    丰田汽车公司(Toyota)的绿色动力先锋、混合动力车普锐斯(Prius)情况如何?它似乎并没有受到太大影响。多年来,这款于1997年首次投产的省油小车经历了数次起伏,但总体来说还是广受好评。作为曾经的全球头号汽车厂商,丰田过去三年里历经坎坷:日本的地震和海啸,发生在美国的出人意料、破坏力极大的自动加速恐慌以及导致生产成本高企的强势日元。而现在,普锐斯这一品牌已变成丰田最有价值的资产之一。

    如今,这一品牌已拓展到囊括了四种车型。最新一款紧凑型普锐斯C售价为19,000美元起。它的混合动力拥有每加仑燃油行驶50英里的燃油经济性。上个月在美国推出后,它的销量迅速上升。丰田的发言人约翰•汉森称:“现在普锐斯这一混合动力品牌已经成为一种标志,我们能利用它向其他人群推广。”汉森还称,丰田的首要任务是使油电混合动力车的售价尽量保持低廉。

    普锐斯战绩辉煌。在3月的美国汽车市场上,它售出了28,711辆,在畅销车型排行榜上排名第三,在畅销轻型车排行榜上排在第六位(上个月也是这款车有史以来销量最好的一个月)。今年头两个月,普锐斯的销量与上年同期相比增长了33%。新款车型,比如普锐斯C和较大型的Venza酷越车应该分别占丰田今年公布的普锐斯总销量的15%和18%。迄今为止,这款车全球总销量已超过250万辆,其中将近一半在美国。

    不过,未来仍然充满挑战。上周一,汽车市场研究机构R.L. Polk公司发布的一项研究报告表明,购买各个品牌的混合动力车的车主中,仅有35%的人会再买一台这种类型的车。相比之下,普锐斯的车主中有41%的人会再买一辆混合动力车。Polk公司宣称,这一相对较低的重复购买率反映了“一种迹象,即消费者会因为高油价而不断寻求其他解决方案”。而福特汽车(Ford)“嘉年华”(Fiesta)和通用汽车(GM)雪佛兰“索尼克”(Sonic)等廉价小车的普及能让消费者能更容易地省下油钱。

    可与普锐斯C相提并论的同级车是本田汽车(Honda)的飞度(Fit)。这款车的综合油耗是每加仑30英里,起售价为15,755美元。要花约三年零两个月的时间省下的油钱才能与普锐斯C高出一般水平的售价相抵。因此,和纯汽油动力的飞度相比,普锐斯C的车主只有在保有时间超过34个月的回本期后,才能真正享受到省油和省钱的好处。专业汽车网站Edmunds.com的分析师米歇尔•克瑞布斯称:“混合动力车最大的问题是它们在经济上并不划算。它们的劲敌正是那些省油车型。”

    The little-mentioned truth about many alternative-fuel vehicles, including gas-electric hybrids, is that savings from their improved fuel economy can often take years to recoup the additional up-front costs of their advanced technology. Purveyors of fancy new green cars are finding out that can take a bite out of sales.

    What about the pioneer of the Prius hybrid, Toyota Motor (TM)? Not so much. First produced in 1997, the diminutive gas-sipper has weathered ups and downs but has also come to enjoy a generally positive reputation. The former No. 1 auto manufacturer in the world is regrouping from three difficult years that include an earthquake and tsunami in Japan, a devastating unintended acceleration scare in the U.S. and a strong yen that makes its vehicles costly to produce. Now, the Prius brand name has evolved into one of the company's most valuable assets.

    The brand has expanded to include four models. The latest version, the compact Prius c, starts at about $19,000. It has a combined fuel economy of 50 miles per gallon and is off to a very fast start in sales after introduction in the U.S. last month. "Now we're able to take advantage of what has become the iconic hybrid brand and expand into other demographics," explains John Hanson, a Toyota spokesman. Hanson says Toyota's priority is to keep the price of gas-electric hybrids as low as possible.

    The Prius is on a remarkable run. It was the third best-selling car and the sixth-best selling light vehicle, with sales of 28,711 units, in March in the U.S. (Last month was also the best sales month ever for the model.) Through the first two months of the year, Prius sales were up 33% from a year earlier. New variants, such as the c and the larger v crossover, should make up for 15% and 18% of total Prius sales this year Toyota has claimed. Global sales to date have total more than 2.5 million units, nearly half of those rolling off American car lots.

    Still, there are challenges ahead. A study released Monday by the R.L. Polk automotive research firm shows that only 35% of hybrid owners — made by all manufacturers -- buy a second one. In contrast, 41% of Prius owners buy another hybrid. Polk said the relatively low repeat buyer rate reflects "an indication that consumers are continuing to seek alternative solutions to high fuel prices." A proliferation of inexpensive small cars, like the Ford (F) Fiesta and GM's (GM) Chevrolet Sonic, have made fuel efficiency much easier for consumers to obtain.

    Comparing the Prius c with Honda (HMC) Fit, which is rated at a combined 30 miles per gallon and starts at $15,775, it would take about three years and two months to save enough in gasoline to compensate for the more expensive price of the car. Thus, Prius c owners who keep their cars longer than the 34-month payback period are saving gasoline and money, compared to the gasoline-powered Fit. "The biggest problem with hybrids is they don't make sense economically," said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with Edmunds.com. "Their biggest enemy is the fuel-efficient engine."

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