On Monday, the Energy Information Association released its latest gas price data; the U.S. price at the pump (all grades) stood at $3.51 at the end of April, the highest price on record. The conversation surrounding oil prices and the economy has made the price of gas a hot topic across political debates and fuel economy a component of recent automotive campaigns.
Does the price of gas actually run the engine of automotive interest in the US? If you sell compact cars it sure does. Compete tracked monthly shopping, or demand, for the compact car segment and compared it to the monthly U.S. weighted average gasoline (all grades) prices over recent months. Compete measures in-market demand by looking across all popular 3rd-party sites and aggregates unique shopping behavior by observing how many people actually utilize shopping tools for every make and model.
Compete also compared demand and gas prices for the most popular hybrid and best-known fuel-efficient compact car, the only U.S. model to exclusively offer every trim as a hybrid: the Toyota Prius. It appears, and not surprisingly so, that shopping spikes and falls coincident with gas prices.
Since launching, the Prius has been synonymous with fuel efficiency and hybrid fervor. April marked the highest shopper count total for Prius on record. Prius was the 4th most shopped model in the U.S. in April, when it had over 124,000 shoppers in that month alone. To put that in perspective, 124,000 shoppers was more than the entire shopper total for more than 25 other makes. In other words, more people shopped for a Prius than for all BMW models combined. Prius had more shoppers than the Lexus brand had in total despite the recent Lexus "power of h" hybrid featured ad campaign. More people shopped for Prius than for Chrysler, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, Pontiac or GMC to drive the point a little further down the road.
Prius outperformed all models combined (from a unique count, a person could have shopped for more than one model within a make) for the above-mentioned makes and in doing so outperformed the entire make demand for more than 70% of all major makes selling cars or trucks in the U.S. today. Does Prius deserve to be its own make with a portfolio of models that sell off of the fuel-efficient brand promise?
Prius has demonstrated that the right message at the right time works. Better fuel economy messaging works when gas prices peak for compact cars, and Prius has the hook consumers are willing to fish for in a compact car segment that is growing. I haven’t met many people that expect a severe decline in gas prices in the future, which would lead me to conclude that Prius is destined for yet more attention and subsequent success. Could the Prius brand extend across a wider range of products? I think it could. It certainly has enough attention from consumers at the moment to share shoppers across more models.