Toyota’s “father of the Prius” is confident the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid will sell much faster than the original hybrid Prius.
Speaking at a media event launching the Prius Prime in Japan, Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada said he expects Prius plug-in hybrids to pass the one million unit sales mark in less than 10 years; a decade is how long it took the original Prius to hit that benchmark.
Uchiyamada led the Prius development team, which launched the hybrid in Japan in 1997.
“Environmental awareness has become a bigger issue today than it was 20 years ago, and demand for environmentally conscious products has increased,” Uchiyamada said.
On Monday, Toyota had announced that it has sold more than 10 million cumulative hybrid vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, as of January 31. That milestone was met just nine months after total hybrid sales reached the 9 million units sold mark. Toyota also reported that the company sold 246,000 hybrid units last year with the new RAV4 Hybrid accounting for nearly 13 percent of those sales.
Uchiyamada has “no idea” when plug-in Prius sales will hit the one million mark, though the technology for plug-in has been improving rapidly, which has lowered costs.
Since pioneering hybrid technology, Toyota developed about 40 hybrid models. The automaker currently sells eight Toyota hybrid models and five Lexus hybrid models in the U.S. Those numbers include four variants of the Prius, three hybrid and one plug-in hybrid.
Toyota expects to sell about 60,000 Prius Primes a year, with more than half being sold in Japan. The original Prius plug-in hybrid only had about 75,000 units sold from its launch in 2012 to its closure in 2015.
Limited range from battery power was widely thought to be a problem to overcome in selling more plug-in Priuses. The Prius Plug-in Hybrid was said to have anywhere from 11 to 13 miles on battery power.
Toyota said that the Prius Prime has a range of 42 miles per charge based on Japanese standards. That comes out to around 25 miles under U.S. standards.
The Prius Prime has done well in sales since being launched in North America in late 2016. In January U.S. sales, the Prius Prime beat the Tesla Model S and followed the Chevy Volt for the No. 2 spot, according to HybridCars’ Dashboard.
Toyota has opened up to endorsing lithium ion batteries, which are being placed the in Prius Prime. The company had avoided that battery technology, which has been widely adopted for competitor’s electric vehicles, for years. Nickel metal hydride batteries have been used in recent Toyota hybrid models.
Toyota had been concerned over the cost, size, and safety of li-ion batteries, but that seems to have reached a turning point.