In the second week of June, Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz intimated that the 2016 Prius would be revealed soon and it’s expected to be on sale by the end of this year.
When “soon” exactly is was not clear, but it could be at the very end of October at the Tokyo auto show or third week of November at the LA auto show.
Masked pre-production cars caught on camera otherwise show Toyota is in the final stages of preparation for another six-year lifecycle run for the fourth generation of a car that is nearly synonymous with “hybrid.”
The carmaker sells 13 Toyota and Lexus hybrid models in the U.S., accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. hybrid market share, and the Prius – now called the “Liftback” – has become the progenitor of three more Prius variants and an SUV variant may be in development.
Even at the end of its product lifecycle the Prius Lifback is routinely near or on top of the EPA’s list of most-searched for hatchbacks.
That said, Toyota does concede low gas prices not to mention competitive models have set back sales last year into this, but says it’s looking long term. As gas prices increase, it projects its hybrids will start to look more relevant to more shoppers.
And for those already cued into the Prius there’s the question of grabbing a present model or waiting. We’ll know more definitively when Toyota removes the veil, but based on reports to date, following are summarized factors to be aware of.
Considering competition has increased, including from potentially more-efficient cars like the Chevy Volt which many consider sportier in design and performance too, Toyota needs to improve the curb appeal.
“I think what’s important for us is Prius still remains a Prius,” Jim Lentz, Toyota Motor Corp.’s North American CEO, told Automotive News in May. “It’s still high mileage. But at the same time, it needs to get more aggressive in styling, and it needs to become a little bit more fun to drive.”
The heavily masked pre-production Prius seen in the U.S. and Thailand indicate a familiar shape with more sporting lines. Some design cues may be borrowed from the CH-R concept shown last year in Paris.
Inside and out is expected more pizzazz for a car now imbued with a techno-hip, if not to some a nerdy image. Increasing appeal to more buyers without alienating the core fans is the goal.
In August 2013 Toyota Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso said he considered 10 percent increase in fuel economy a “crazy number” to achieve while hinting they were shooting for it.
The present 50 mpg Prius is already the highest-rated non-plug-in car sold in the U.S.
Reports that as much as a 15 percent gain could be forthcoming were said to have been incorrect by Lentz in a story by the Detroit Free Press last month. An EPA rating of 55 mpg or a little more and reduction from the present 178 g/mile CO2 may be in the offing, but this too has not been verified.
Propelling the car is what is reported to be the most thermally efficient gas engine Toyota has yet produced. It is believed the long-since amortized (paid for) NiMh battery will be retained, but a li-ion option as introduced in the 2012 Prius Plug-in Hybrid is believed also possibly pending for upper trim levels.
The Prius may thus offer two different EPA ratings as well as maybe variance in other performance, though this will remain to be seen.
Riding on Toyota’s versatile new cross-platform Toyota New Global Architecture or TNGA, the Prius may be lighter, and is expected to be set up to match the sportier look with better performance.
Making the car more engaging in order to keep growing share from now through 2022 is the goal.
“I have driven it. It’s fantastic,” said Lentz, adding it looks and handles better with center of gravity now lower.”
Unsaid was acceleration. Present 0-60 mph in the ballpark of the low-mid 10-second range could be improved a bit, we shall see.
As far as reliability, cost of maintenance and ultimately resale value, it is likely these already high-level attributes will carry over. Certainly that is part of the plan.
Unknown is whether all-wheel drive might be incorporated. The midsized Prius now uses a 1.8-liter engine with its Hybrid Synergy Drive and continuously variable transmission turning the front wheels.
The way Toyota achieves AWD in hybrids has been seen in the Highlander and Lexus hybrids with an additional rear-wheel motor not connected via mechanical link to the drive engine. In other words the rear wheel portion is pure electric drive.
This could be a relatively simple thing to apply but we shall see.
The Prius Liftback presently comes in levels Two through Five priced from just over $25,000 to just over $30,100. A level One priced $1,000 less than the base Two retail trim is reserved for fleet customers.
Whether Toyota will discount the 2016 Prius right away, or dealers will move as much on price is unknown.
Considering the hybrid market is soft now, this may be the case, or maybe not.
According to Truecar.com, a 2015 Prius may be had from around $3,300-$4,900 below MSRP in several major markets. Pricing of course varies regionally, and by the motivations of individual dealers and buyers’ ability to negotiate as the case may be.
The Prius is projected by analysts to succeed even if hybrid sales are weak because the brand recognition of Prius itself remains strong.
Also, an all-new car redesign can be appealing and many people are waiting to see just how good a job Toyota has done.
The present Prius of course is otherwise an effective conveyance from a detached logician’s point of view and if its 50 mpg and maybe more money saved helps seal the deal, there will be those who choose that route.
But car buying is famously a decision that is made as much with the emotions as all the logic Mr. Spock may muster. What things may come down to is the new Prius is nicer to the eye, and promises enough more to make it the obvious choice.
Indicators are this is what many buyers will conclude. Toyota dealers who’ve seen the new Prius have said it looks like a winner to them, and to be sure Toyota is hoping that this will be the case.