Japanese Carmakers Prepare Assault of Hybrid and EV Models
Toyota, Honda and Nissan are planning to introduce a staggering number of hybrids and electric cars in the next three to five years. The specific product introductions are documented in the latest issue of Automotive News, which features a special report on future products from the Japanese brands. Of course, these plans are not set in stone, but they do indicate a serious commitment to hybrids in the immediate future.
Toyota is leading the way on hybrids—although it’s anything but a one-horse race. The Prius franchise is going to expand, with the introduction of the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid in 2012. At the same time, according to Automotive News, Toyota will build a Prius coupe with “dramatic styling” to stack up against the Honda CR-Z sporty coupe hybrid. The company has already held a design competition between Toyota’s four global design studios for the coupe design.
The global vehicle could be built, at first, in Japan in 2012 as a 2013 model. Production will then shift to Toyota’s Mississippi plant, where the company had planned to produce Priuses before the economic downturn led to a decision to mothball the facility.
The Mississippi plant could also produce a Prius pick-up truck—based on the A-BAT pick-up concept—while a Prius wagon would be manufactured outside the U.S. for Asian and possibly European markets only. Our sources tell us that the next Prius slated for the U.S. market, sometime in 2011, is a crossover-sized model, significantly larger than the current Prius model.
As we’ve reported, Toyota will bring six new hybrids to market in 2012—four Toyota models and two from Lexus—as well as a small EV subcompact (in the spirit of the Scion iQ) and the RAV4 EV (which is joint project with Tesla). By 2013, if not sooner, Toyota will make the shift from nickel metal hydride batteries to lithium ion.
Automotive News says the Toyota Prius will go through a full redesign by 2015, at which time Toyota will produce a “decontented version” version of the Prius, intended for economy buyers.
What About Nissan and Honda?
The Automotive News list of electric-drive vehicles from Nissan and Honda is not nearly as long as Toyota’s. Nonetheless, Toyota’s competitors will not be left out of the hybrid race.
Nissan’s efforts are almost exclusively focused on the introduction of the mass-production all-electric Nissan LEAF, arguably the most important vehicle introduction of the year (along with the Chevy Volt). It will be followed by an electric luxury version from Infiniti sometime in 2012 or 2013. Meanwhile, the company next year will release its first homegrown hybrid, the Infiniti M35 Hybrid. The same system will be utilized in the 2013 Altima Hybrid, which could finally go nationwide, after years of limited availability in just nine states.
As previously reported, Honda plans a set of larger hybrids, including a new version of the Accord Hybrid and the first gas-electric Honda Pilot. The company will also feature hybrid options for many of its top Acura luxury models. In 2012, Honda will introduce a small battery-electric commuter car—in the spirit of the EV-N concept. We suspect that production for the small EV will be limited.
The only new information from Automotive News about Honda’s hybrid plans is the prospect of a high-performance version of the CR-Z hybrid. The core idea of the CR-Z, just introduced a couple of months ago, is to combine sportiness and fuel economy—but the model has been criticized for not offering quite enough mpg or horsepower. The company apparently is going to answer the need for speed by offering a high-performance CR-Z, while hopefully holding steady on fuel economy. Speaking of horsepower, according to Automotive News, Honda is resurrecting the idea of a hybrid version of the S2000 convertible sports car. It remains to be seen if Honda will move away from its mild hybrid architecture to a new hybrid system better suited to plug-in capabilities.