Prius at 10

The Toyota Prius will be celebrating its 10th anniversary later this year. The iconic hybrid car is going stronger than ever—with nearly 750,000 units on roads throughout the world and the pace of sales continuing to rise. Looking back to the birth of the Prius, the engineers behind the vehicle were apprehensive about being able to achieve their goals.

In 1994, Akihiro Wada, then executive vice president of Toyota, set a challenge before the project’s engineers: to double the fuel efficiency compared with a conventional vehicle. That was difficult enough. On top of that, Toyota’s president at the time, Hiroshi Okuda, told the group to complete its work years ahead of schedule, in order to introduce the vehicle in 1997, the year the Kyoto Protocol was adopted at the U.N. conference on climate change.

Prius Engineers

The engineering team for the first-generation Prius.

The response from Takeshi Uchiyamada, chief engineer of the first-generation Prius, was, “That’s impossible.” But the executives stuck to the 1997 deadline. According to the legend, Uchiyamada was given the option of completing the assignment or quitting his job. He sought inspiration by reading stories about people who had accomplished impossible goals. The team made hybrid history by releasing the Prius as the world’s first gas-electric car in December 1997.

An Entire Line of Impossible Cars

Ten years later, the Prius is considered a smash hit—the right car for a world under the spell of a sustained energy and environmental crisis. With the Prius due for a redesign in 2008 (as a 2009 model), Toyota is now considering where to take its hybrid vision. We saw hints of Toyota’s plans for the next-generation Prius at the 2007 Geneva Auto Show, in the form of the Toyota Hybrid X concept design. Now, new rumors (and images) of design concepts are circulating the Internet.

Toyota may go even further by establishing “Prius” as a separate brand. Last year, Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota U.S. sales, dropped hints of a smaller “city car” based on the Prius, as well as a potential small SUV version. “People also want to see more utility on the vehicle, so you could imagine something that’s a little more utility or crossover-based,” said Lentz, who was speaking at Specialty Equipment Market Association trade show in Las Vegas in Nov. 2006.

Now, according to, planning for a three-vehicle Prius lineup is apparently underway. The article states:

The Prius brand name would feature a three car lineup with vehicles called A, B and C. Prius A would be launched in 2009 (coinciding with the estimated launch date of the new Prius), Prius B in 2010, and finally Prius C in 2011. Once the launch of the Prius brand occurs, it is rumored that Toyota will cease to sell hybrid vehicles under its own product name.

These are just rumors, but they reveal the challenges Toyota faces in duplicating the Prius halo, and setting it upon an entire lineup of vehicles. That might prove to be an impossible goal—even less achievable than the original creation of the Prius 10 years ago.

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  • seren

    When will I be able to just go buy a full electric plug in vehicle???

  • David Smith

    If you really want, and have enough money, you could buy a Prius and then have it modified to be a plug in that could operate as a full EV unless you need the extra range.
    If you have a lot of time, and knowledge you could modify almost any vehicle to be a full electric. There are many that have done it, including the author of ‘The Emperor’s New Hydrogen Economy’, Darryl McMahon. (a personal favourite)
    Failing that, I think I heard that the Chevy Volt will be available in 2010.

  • jake

    I think the goal at building the Prius was one of the important things that happened in the history of the hybrid car.

  • StevenC

    Toyota has successfully made it known that they are the hybrid experts. I congratulate them. I would love to see more hybrid models. I love my Highlander Hybrid. Thanks Toyota. Keep up the good work. Our world needs more businesses with your long term thinking

  • Another Jake

    Is there any published data on the life of the battery pack, with a curve to show decreasing capacity over time?

  • Dan

    According to a short interview with Yoshihiro Onomura, ‘Director of Hybridsystem Development’, published in the swiss tabloid ‘Blick’, he declares that “their next step will be a plug-in hybrid whose battery can be charged at an outlet”.

    ( /german)

    Thought you might want to know.

  • Andy

    Toyota will have Hybrid Versions of ALL their vehicles by 2010!!! Toyota is taking the lead on Hybrids with remarkable vehicles.

  • Eric S.

    How do you think power is generated to the outlet? It is most likely by fossil fuel. It is great for the automotive companies that the vehicle can have better range from the batteries, but enviromentally it is not the solution.

  • rY.

    Not so fast there! Even with 50% of U.S. power coming from coal plants (power generation in California comes almost entirely from a mix of natural gas, geothermal, and hydroelectric), plug-in hybrids STILL reduce emissions of greenhouse gases and most other pollutants compared with either conventional gasoline cars or “regular” hybrids, because so much of it comes out of tailpipes.

    Using an external electrical source to supplement your hybrid’s power also gives you the choice of where that power comes from. You can use local power (with most people charging their vehicles at night, this puts very little additional load on the local electric grid) or even generate power yourself with solar panels! Gasoline cars and traditional hybrids do not even give us this choice!

    Also, nobody yet has fought an overseas war over electricity…

  • Stanley

    There are large solar power projects under way and more planned. America can be the Saudi Arabia of solar power. We have to become energy independent while we still can. We are working on borrowed time. Peak oil is either here or coming soon. Let’s do it while we can!

  • mark ephraim

    why dont we all just send our money to japan and make them richer; because thats better than buy a subcompact car for 30000 and look stupid.