For all those who’ve alleged Toyota is not so interested in plug-in technology, that assessment may have been premature.
According to an Autoblog interview with Shoichi Kaneko, assistant chief engineer for the Prius Prime, the carmaker may make the next generation Prius Liftback exclusively plug-in hybrid.
The Prius Liftback hybrid is by far the highest-volume and most-successful electrified car sold even while the plug-in version introduced mid-way in the gen three’s life in 2012 has been a comparative also-ran, but this may change.
Still young in its product life, the fourth-generation Prius was introduced in 2016 as an all-new model with 52 mpg in five trims, and 56 mpg in the Two Eco.
The company has also shown it is pushing toward a law of diminishing returns in balancing all desired attributes in the Prius while squeaking out as much as 10 percent mpg gains with each successive generation.
“Ultimately, PHEV may be the way to go,” Kaneko said to Autoblog through an interpreter.
This could also build on statements made in 2013 when Toyota was discussing what to expect with the fourth-generation Prius.
“To beat your own record becomes very difficult,” said Managing Officer Satoshi Ogiso who leads the new Prius development project.
So, with vehicles like the Chevy Volt and Bolt, future Tesla Model 3 and others capturing consumer interest, and in light of lukewarm Prius sales this year, and regulatory demands besides, Toyota is considering ditching the regular hybrid version.
How seriously one may take this news at this early stage is anyone’s guess. Certainly the Prius has lost its pinnacle green car status in the eyes of many, though it remains quite competitive, all things considered.
The upcoming Prius Prime, further, offers just 22 miles EV range – a mere shadow of the 53-mile Chevy Volt. It is more spacious in the back seat, and in overall volume, however, but otherwise is not a purpose-built plug-in hybrid, being instead a conversion with battery stuffed in limited space under rear seats.
To get range competitive with what may be for sale when it’s time for the generation-five Prius around the turn of the decade, Toyota would probably need to rethink its design more significantly.
Toyota has otherwise said it wants to be a leader in reducing and ultimately eliminating petroleum from its vehicles on the long horizon, so we shall see.