Toyota begins selling the Auris Hybrid in the U.K. on July 1. This is a milestone for a number of important reasons.
First, it’s the first time a full hybrid has been targeted for the heart of the European market. The Auris—which uses the same technical architecture as the Toyota Prius— is a mainstream economical model, with a position in the market roughly similar to the Corolla. The hybrid version is very similar to the conventional Auris. The main differences are: lower ride height for better aerodynamics (0.28 Cd); reshaped bumpers and longer rear spoiler (also for aero); and a smaller gas tank and trunk to accommodate the nickel metal hydride battery pack. Cosmetic changes include a chrome grille, LED driving lights and hybrid blue-tint badges.
Why else is it important? Because the Auris Hybrid is the first full hybrid—at least according to Toyota—to be produced in Europe, specifically for the European market. The Auris Hybrid went into production earlier this month in Burnaston, England. (Actually, Volkswagen began building the Touareg Hybrid in Slovakia in April.)
Europe has historically preferred diesels to hybrids, as a green fuel efficiency choice—but this marks the beginning of a shift to hybrids. The Auris Hybrid could help Toyota bypass FIAT to become Europe’s low-CO2 champion. The Auris hybrid’s CO2 output is just 89 gram per kilometer.
The Auris Hybrid is not just an afterthought. It’s central to Toyota’s Europe strategy. Toyota expects to the hybrid version to account for one-quarter of Auris sales this year. That means 14,000 units, growing to 30,000 starting in 2011. By 2015, Toyota wants hybrids to make up 50 percent of its model range in Europe.
Implications for the United States
The introduction of Aura Hybrid could ripple across the pond. The U.S. market is lacking a compact hybrid hatchback—and Toyota is lacking any kind of compact hatchback. Yes, in 2011, Honda will launch the Fit Hybrid, and Toyota will offer the Lexus CT200h hybrid. If Toyota brings over the Auris Hybrid, maybe rebadged as a Prius Junior, U.S. car shoppers could have at least a trio of small hybrid hatchbacks to choose from.
Could Toyota push down the price tag of a U.S. Aura Hybrid to $19,000 or lower? Could they configure the car to break 50 mpg? Could the design be modified with some of the Prius’s DNA for those that like a unique eco-friendly appearance? If yes to all the above, Toyota could have the first serious option for hybrid affordability.