Why Toyota only sold one Prius in China last December

If you’re reading this in China and you bought a Prius in December, congratulations — you were the only one.

While Toyota Motor Corp.’s iconic gas-electric hybrid car continues to sell in other markets almost two decades after the first one was sold in Japan in late 1997, Chinese consumers have never warmed to the Prius, a mainstay of the U.S. green-car movement. This past year, sales almost completely flatlined, even as China’s cities continue to battle smog issues.

One Prius was sold in the country in December, the first sale since May. In total, Toyota sold 76 Priuses in China last year, compared with about 700 in 2015, according to dealer data compiled by Bloomberg Intelligence.

Toyota began selling its new Prius plug-in hybrid, or PHV, in Japan this week, and plans to start sales in Europe in March. The company doesn’t intend to market the model in China.

“We’ve only just started production of hybrid vehicles in China, so we’re making the utmost effort to popularize those vehicles,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said at a Prius event in Tokyo Wednesday. “When the timing is right, we will consider introducing the PHV in China.”

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