Toyota has said it will delay the next-gen Prius until the end of 2015 in order to ensure it gets it right, and part of its due diligence includes torturing system components in its 1,000 horsepower TS040 hybrid racer.
According to Yoshiaki Kinoshita, president of Toyota Motorsport GmbH, the all-wheel-drive Le Mans car is making use of microchips and microcontrollers to be utilized by the new production Prius.
Kinoshita told Automotive News no mechanical parts were in use, but the electronic components were being subjected to very tough service. Toyota is leading the manufacturer’s championship with the TS040 so one could say the Prius components are being doubly tested.
Beyond just making the new Prius meet expectations, Toyota is being extra careful to avoid potential quality problems that could lead to a recall because of its dependence on modular system architecture.
The new Prius, which is hoped to get over 10-percent better mpg, or somewhere over 55 mpg combined, shares its hybrid system components with several other hybrids in the family. So if one part fails, several models could be recalled, an undesirable result Toyota wishes to avoid.
Toyota originally wanted to release the next Prius early in 2015, so is not exceptionally behind on its timeline.
This will be the fourth generation since its 1997 Japan launch, and introduction to the U.S. in 2000. Each Prius set a new benchmark for mpg, performance, and utility, and this time the automaker has said it wants to produce a more fun-to-drive experience, and reportedly has mulled all-wheel-drive.
Speaking of options, the new Prius will offer two battery options. The base model will come with a nickel metal-hydride pack as the present car has, and a lithium-ion pack will be offered. The Prius plug-in hybrid has a 4.4-kwh li-ion pack which has already given Toyota experience with li-ion technology in a Prius product.
But in the face of perceptibly more environmentally friendly cars such as pure EVs, and plug-in hybrids such as the Chevy Volt, Toyota is also wanting to make the new Prius hybrid something special.
As a solution to environmental and fuel consumption concerns, hybrids have always faced criticism from detractors even while winning converts.
Toyota’s overall product strategy involves hybridization of more variants within its Lexus and Toyota lines and it’s famously sidestepping battery electrics in favor of fuel cells while making only a token effort at plug-in hybrids.
The Prius Liftback presently outsells the next-highest selling hybrid by three-to-one. It’s a symbol of corporate pride that the automaker conceded it practically stumbled upon, and which early on had its own share of detractors within its Japanese headquarters until sales success made them believers.
It now takes the whole hybrid endeavor very seriously attempting to employ best engineering practices. As another example, three Japanese engineers slotted into the six-person TS040 racing program rotate through for half-month stints before returning to the production car tech center in Toyota City.
But even if they are using the next eco-oriented Prius’ components to run a 1,000-horsepower, supercapacitor-equipped track racer, the real competition will be in dealer showrooms.
Eyes will be on what Toyota manages to pull off next year, and how well it succeeds in its goal to outdo itself a fourth time.