Four Reasons Why a Prius Minivan Matters

The Japanese Nikkei business daily reported on Friday that Toyota will launch a Prius-badged hybrid minivan. Toyota is not officially confirming the story—so the timing and any other details should be taken with a grain of salt. Nonetheless, it’s exciting news for the following reasons:

1First US Hybrid Minivan

Consumers have been clamoring for a hybrid minivan for years. Besides a subcompact, it’s the only segment that does not have a super-efficient hybrid available in the US. At this point, family-oriented hybrid shoppers looking for three rows of seats to carry up to seven people need to buy an SUV—such as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid or Cadillac Escalade Hybrid. The Prius minivan, according to the report, will be more affordable and flexible than hybrid SUVs. Nikkei states: “Its seat configuration will be flexible to allow for convenient seating and create luggage space. Toyota plans to keep the price of the new Prius minivan at a level similar to those of current Prius models.”

2Toyota and Japan Are Aggressively Adding More Hybrids

The Nikkei report says the Toyota Prius minivan will be launched in 2011—without specifying when in 2011 and in which markets. It’s safe to say that the Prius minivan will first go to Japan and will be sold in greater numbers there.

In another report from Japan, the Yomiuri Shimbun last week said that Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry wants hybrid and electric vehicles to account for 50 percent of new-car sales in Japan by 2020. It also set a target to raise the proportion of “next-generation vehicles” to up to 70 percent of new cars sold in Japan by 2030. These targets blow away nearly every other country’s goals—and they focus on hybrids as well as plug-in cars. Unlike other nations, Japan is backing up its ambitions with proven effective policies, such as higher fuel tax and more generous consumer incentives.

Despite having an overall new vehicle market about one-third the size of the America’s, Japan sells more hybrids. Toyota currently offers 12 hybrid models in Japan, compared with seven in the United States. Last year, it sold 251,000 hybrids in Japan, compared with 200,000 in the United States. A Prius minivan could tilt the market even more in the direction of Japan—with economies of scale helping Toyota sell its hybrids globally at a lower cost.

3A Prius Sub-Brand Is Definite

Rumors of an entire family of Priuses, from a subcompact to a crossover SUV, have been floating around for a couple of years. Although Toyota has not made a formal announcement about the plan, reports of a Prius-badged minivan give further credence to the concept. Toyota executives speaking recently have been talking more openly about multiple Prius platforms—and informed that marketing and communications teams are shifting away from a single vehicle approach to one that includes multiple models and a range of electric-drive technologies from conventional hybrid to plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

4Nickel and Lithium Will Coexist at Toyota

Bill Reinert, Toyota’s advanced technology guru, is among those using the word “family.” At the same time, he openly discusses his doubts about the readiness of lithium ion battery technology for mass-market applications—despite the fact that a growing number of electric cars and hybrids, including the upcoming Prius Plug-in Hybrid, will use next-generation lithium battery technology. The Nikkei report about a Prius minivan indicated that it will use lithium ion batteries.

Speaking at last week’s Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar in La Jolla, Calif., Reinert said, “I’m unconvinced that we’ve seen the end of nickel metal hydride for power applications. Our Prius family and Toyota family of hybrids works well, and I don’t think any of you have ever written a story of the failure of a Toyota battery chemistry.” Reinert cast doubts that lithium ion batteries will provide adequate service to second owners.

The Nikkei report added that Toyota plans to introduce an unspecified hybrid vehicle in 2015 that will offer consumers a choice between nickel metal hydride and lithium ion batteries.

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  • Charles

    Ford, do you see this? Grand C-Max hybrid (plug-in), I am telling you would really sell.

  • FamilyGuy

    It’s about time. Just looking forward to the specifics (cost, MPG).

  • usbseawolf2000

    Both NiMH and Lithium can co-exist. Cheaper models use NiMH and the more expensive model (with higher performance) can use Lithium. Sort of like I4 and V6 option, except with Lithium you pay more and use less gas.

  • KieJidosha

    Wish it would come over as a Plug-in, or better yet, Serial hybrid. Perfect next to a Nissan LEAF in my dream garage.

  • Anonymous

    I’m not convinced serial or parallel hybrid is necessary one better than the other. But variety is good.

  • veek

    The article mentioned minivans and minicars are the only segments without a hybrid, but don’t forget the other end of the scale — we could use a convertible, sports car hybrid for fuel-conscious people in their mid-life crisis or those who want something more fun to drive than today’s hybrids.

  • Old Man Crowder

    I’m trying not to get too wrapped up in the hype, but I’m excited about this possibility. Who knows how long it’ll be before these things actually hit the streets?

    I’m hoping it’ll be Sienna-sized and not some version of the Mazda5.

  • Mr. Fusion

    Also the pickup truck segment is lacking.
    Yes it’s true, some Americans need pickups for work, not just image.

    Sure, there’s the GM hybrid pickup, but I wouldn’t call 20 MPG anything remotely close to “super efficient”.

    Toyota: Build the minivan, put the drivetrain in a 4×4 Tacoma or even better a Tundra and make lots of money.

  • Samie

    The Prius Hybrid mini van is welcoming news and we must give credit to Toyota for bringing this to the market (fingers crossed). I think if the cost of Li batteries are reduced and if the weight and size of the battery pack gets smaller we will see more hybrids developed for the U.S. market.

    Redbeard unless the small Isuzu/Ranger pickups comeback with a hybrid option, I don’t see standard trucks with a hybrid option becoming popular for quite awhile. Let’s say if the hybrid drivetrain was only 1-3K more and got 28-36mpgs it would be a hit but as I said battery technology needs to continue to develop.

    What would be more practical in the short-term is building a small block diesel engine for standard sized trucks like the F150. This can be done but diesel options now days are usually sold as premium options for high end trucks.

  • Anonymous

    Honda! where is the Odyssey Hybrid? Come on and start working on it. Toyota got theirs.

  • Patrick

    Toyota equal to Apple, they both change the way we live!

    Three years ago I traded in my 2003 Sienna for the 2007 Camry Hybrid. If they had a hybrid minivan then, I will probably driving one.

    I have been driving a Camry Hybrid for the last 3 years. My tank average is 35 MPG. My wife’s 1999 Corolla is sitting in the parking lot collecting dust most of the time, because it is 30% thirstier than my Camry.

    By the way, the Camry Hybrid changed the way I drive too.
    Have you driven a Hybrid lately?

  • Elliot

    I guarantee that if Toyota had a hybrid minivan we would currently be driving it rather than our 08 Toyota HH. Don’t get me wrong, we love our HH, but the hybrid minivan is what we were really looking for. Personally, I don’t want anything quite as big as Sienna, but definitely bigger than a Mazda5. Maybe something in between those 2 that gets 30+ in the city and costs in the mid-20’s for base model.

  • aggieland

    The above is obviously from one of those oil cartel countries. Anyway, I think Elliot is on to something. I think one of the reasons why we haven’t seen a hybrid minivan in the US is that Toyota, Honda, etc. are trying to get 30 mpg overall, and because of the size of the Sienna and Odessey are having difficulty achieving that number. My Odessey gets 20-22 mpg combined. If a hybrid system improved that to 25-27 mpg that would be about a 25% increase, but most consumers would scoff at the “modest” 5 mpg increase. To get my Odessey to 30 mpg overall would be about a 50% increase in efficiency. How much size are American minivan consumers willing to give up? Li batteries might help, and I expect Toyota to be the first to hit 30 mpg with a minivan. While I love Honda, I don’t think the IMA system can get the Odessey to 30 mpg even though the standard minivan mpgs have improved over the years.

  • Yegor

    30 mpg minivan? Easily! All Toyota has to do is to use Lexus Rx450h FWD drivetrain. Lexus Rx450h FWD already has 30 mpg average and it has the same weight as current Sienna Hybrid would have. I think that Toyota Sienna Hybrid MPG would be even better because Toyota will use 2.7L i4 cylinder engine instead of Lexus’s 3.5L V6.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I think you’ve pointed out the issue:
    Toyota would rather put that drivetrain into an RX450H that sells for $45K, rather than a minivan which is hard to get $35K out of.

  • TomW

    I don’t see a problem with Toyota keeping nickel batteries in their hybrids. The only improvements of a li-ion battery would be slightly lower vehicle vehicle and slightly better battery efficiency–good things but would only increase total fuel economy…slightly.

    If Toyota wants to keep NiMH, that’s fine, they still make the best hybrids. If other automakers want to prove how good Li-ion batteries are, they can try to outdo Toyota.

    a hybrid minivan would be great.

  • lily su

    I like it.thank you very much.

  • Capt. Concernicus

    A Prius minvan and a Nissan Leaf are in your “dream” garage. Now that’s just sad. I’d have at least a little respect for you had you at least mentioned the Tesla. *sighing*

  • Capt. Concernicus


    A dream garage that has the Nissan Leaf and the Prius minivan. Now that’s a dream garage with no imagination.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    @Capt. Concernicus,
    As a Tesla owner, I appreciate your bringing it up but I’ll be the first to say that it definitely has 1 shortcoming – space. The main reason we take one of the gas guzzlers is because one can only fit 2 people and very little else in a Tesla Roadster. Hopefully, the Tesla Model S will solve that problem but, in the mean time, I can appreciate visionaries such as KieJidosha who recognize the value of a hybrid Minivan (for carrying a lot a long way) and a Leaf (for carrying a little most of the time).
    My 2-car dream garage, of course, would have that hybrid Minivan be a plug-in serial hybrid (or EREV) with a diesel ICE and the Leaf (or maybe Model-S for the higher end option).
    Who knows, maybe Nissan will surprise us by allowing the Leaf to have a little zip in it (a la Tesla) instead of dumbing it down which seems to be the prevailing approach major ICE makers insist on taking to EVs.
    We can always dream.

  • baw

    Awesome…. I saw a Estima hybrid minivan in Japan before, maybe they will make the prius based off of that with better MPG with lithium and other new technology. It would be really nice if they based it off of a 2010 Sienna Sport Edition…..Those are the best looking minivans….

  • Capt. Concernicus

    @ Ex-EV1,

    I suppose that most buyers of the Tesla aren’t using it as their primary car.

    I’m not against hybird cars at all, but as in my previous comment I was merely stating that if the Leaf and the Prius minivan are in your “dream garage” that you must not have much of an imagination. My dream garage has cars more along the line of Bugatti Veyron or Shelby Cobra Mustang, but of course my dream garage is assuming that I’m rich and don’t care about the price of gas. 🙂

    I believe that the next 5 years or so are going to show a lot of promise as far as hybrid vehicles are concerned. Instead of trying to cram a hybrid system into an existing platform they will be built on new platforms that are more conducive to their internal workings. I’m definitely excited about it.

    On another note I’m not much of an EV proponent. I still see them being more of a niche vehicles for the forseeable future.

    Automakers take note: Turbo-diesel hybrids. Build them. Now.

  • Uncle Carmine

    Someone produced a hybrid 75 passenger commuter bus and the City of New York jumped right on it, immediately purchasing several hundreds of them, not to mention the hybrid prius cars for city agency use and they all seem to be working well…. and saving the taxpayers lots of money in fuel consumption. Consider all municipalities and governmental agencies in the United States and the potential (for sales of hybrids) fairly boggles the mind. I hope all the auto manufacturers take note of this and read the handwriting on the wall.

  • James East

    I am hoping to buy the Prius minivan this summer. I am using it to promote my green friendly boutique that I own. I’m hoping that I am able to convince people to go green by driving and promoting my store at the same time. I’m looking into getting a vehicle wrap for the prius minivan to help me promote these ideas. I am so excited for the minivan to be released.

  • Shimon

    As we know, nowadays American hybrid cars, if they want to buy super efficient hybrid with family oriented, they will purchase hybrid SUV such as Cadillac Escalade Hybrid Anhängerkupplung or Toyota Highlander Hybrid. But when Prius Minivan comes, they have more option. Nikkei states that Prius Minivan will be more flexible and of course more affordable than hybrid SUVs.

  • Cheryl Sheehy

    Its 2012 and I haven’t seen this yet. Where can I see one?