Toyota launches its revamped plug-in hybrid Prius.
highlighting features such as an extended all-electric driving range in hopes of kick-starting sputtering sales of a flagship model.
The new Prius, set to roll out this fall, is a complete redesign of the plug-in hybrid that debuted in January 2012. Plug-in hybrids can switch between electric and hybrid modes, keeping drivers from having to worry about how much power is left in the battery.
The upgrades more than double the range of the Prius in electric mode from 26.4km to over 60km. This allows for normal day-to-day driving with minimal use of the gasoline engine, said Kouji Toyoshima, the chief engineer who developed the vehicle. The car can reach a speed of 135kph in electric mode.
The Japanese specifications include an optional system using a rooftop solar panel to charge the drive battery, a boon to residents of housing complexes who may not always be able to charge overnight. The car is also compatible with a system that can charge the battery to 80% in just 20 minutes or so.
Toyota sold around 75,000 plug-in Priuses through March, mainly in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. This lackluster figure may owe partly to the current model’s roughly 2.94 million yen ($27,700) price tag, compared with about 2.42 million yen for the standard hybrid. This level of demand does not satisfy Toyota, which is positioning plug-in hybrids as the company’s next generation of environmentally friendly cars.
Many countries are changing their policies for eco-cars. How automakers respond to these shifts could redraw the industry map. California, historically a trailblazer on stronger environmental standards, requires zero-emission vehicles to make up a certain percentage of automakers’ sales. Tighter rules set for 2018 will count only electric and fuel cell vehicles toward this requirement, excluding hybrids — Toyota’s forte.
Toyota rolled out a fuel cell car in Japan in 2014 and in the U.S. last October. But broader use will require construction of more hydrogen filling stations. With manufacturing bottlenecks causing issues as well, the automaker expects to produce just 2,000 fuel cell vehicles this year.
Though Toyota sees fuel cell cars as the future, the automaker is hedging its bets with plug-in hybrids in friendlier markets. China offers generous subsidies to buyers of “new energy” vehicles, namely electric and plug-in cars. Toyota plans to offer plug-in hybrid versions of the Corolla and Levin there, with local production slated to begin in 2018.