Next Wave of Japanese Hybrids Heading to US
The number of hybrid gas-electric vehicles offered by Japanese car companies will multiply in the next few years. That’s evidenced by a list of upcoming hybrids reported by the trade publication Automotive News this week—providing a plausible scenario for specific hybrid models coming to the United States around 2011.
We’re not talking about novel concept cars with limited chances of becoming production vehicles. The list is comprised of real and practical mass-produced vehicles to be offered with fuel-efficient hybrid drivetrains. The new hybrids would fill in gaps not previously offered in the hybrid market, such as a gas-electric minivan, subcompact, and pickup truck. Japanese carmakers usually wait to confirm product plans until soon before the release date, so few models are described in Automotive News as a sure thing. But the need to meet higher fuel efficiency standards starting in 2011 increases the likelihood of each proposed model.
Here’s a brand-by-brand rundown.
The small Toyota Yaris is due for a redesign for the 2012 model year. Following the trend set by the Prius, the Yaris is likely to get a larger 1.8-liter engine—to replace the current 1.5-liter 106-horsepower engine—and to add a hybrid option. Fuel economy numbers could top the charts. The Avalon full-size sedan will also be redesigned for 2012, providing a good opportunity to introduce a hybrid version. Automotive News appears more certain about a hybrid minivan in the form of the 2012 Toyota Sienna Hybrid—although Toyota insiders told us that a hybrid minivan for the US presents tough technical challenges. A redesigned gas-powered 2011 Sienna debuts early next year.
The small Toyota A-BAT hybrid pickup concept, which was shown at auto shows in 2008, could be revived as a Scion-badged hybrid pickup. The tiny 2011 Scion iQ, set to compete against the Smart ForTwo, is not a hybrid. But its small size—barely 10 feet long—and a 1.3-liter four-cylinder engine could push its mileage beyond the level of the most efficient hybrids.
The entry-level Lexus ES will be redesigned for 2012, and a hybrid version will be added. The ES Hybrid will slot in—with regard to cost and fuel economy—between the hybrid-only Lexus HS 250h, with a sticker price of $34,000, and the much more expensive GS 450h hybrid sedan. We might also see a smaller Lexus model brought to the United States to compete against the BMW 1-series beginning with the 2012 model year. A hybrid version of that vehicle, the Lexus IC, is “on the table,” according to Automotive News.
Honda discontinued the six-cylinder performance-oriented Honda Accord Hybrid in 2007. It will be brought back, hopefully this time with a focus on efficiency, as early as the 2011 model year. Honda canceled plans for diesel versions of the Accord and the Odyssey minivan, but Automotive News hints that a hybrid Odyssey could happen with the minivan’s redesign for 2011. The previously announced small and sporty CR-Z hybrid will go on sale in spring 2010. Honda is also talking about an all-electric subcompact—but that’s way off into the future, around 2015.
Nissan is emphasizing all-electric over hybrid, but the company is hedging its bets. The 100-mile-range electric Nissan Leaf will begin rolling out next year in small numbers late next year. The Altima Hybrid, currently using Toyota technology and only available in eight states, will begin in 2012 to use Nissan’s homegrown hybrid system, which could get applied to other models in the future.
Subaru executives say they are working with Toyota—which owns 16.8 percent Fuji Heavy Industries, the company that builds Subaru Vehicles—to build a hybrid system. If those plans materialize, Subaru’s first hybrid could come in the next two or three years, but the company is not yet committing. The tiny all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV is selling in Japan—at a pricey $45,000 minus government subsidies—and is “penciled in” for US market with the 2012 model year.