These Up and Coming Hybrids Are Giving Toyota A Run For Its Money

No other automaker has been nearly as successful in proliferating hybrids as Toyota, but a few are determined to change that.

First-generaton Prius.

Entering this year, Toyota proclaimed it had sold 10 million hybrids globally since introducing the 1997 Japan-market Prius, and in North America the count is over 3.2 million, but signs of weakening can be seen.

Helping Toyota has been cars that have been perceived as clearly superior in terms of mpg, functionality, reliability and resale value.

In the past year, a few models from other makers have come along to face off on just these core metrics and Toyota’s U.S. market share has slipped from around 70 percent to around 53 percent today.

Prius v.

Toyota has assigned blame to things like inexpensive gas, but a marked decline in sales of its redesigned Prius – a model that traditionally carried the most weight for the brand – has also hurt it, among other factors.

Prius c.

Meanwhile some pesky newcomers are doing alright next to established Toyotas such as the Prius c, Prius v, and Camry Hybrid. More sharply focused hybrids from other manufacturers are expected too, so while Toyota yet dominates, the days of its reaching as high of 76 percent ownership of the U.S. market may be further challenged.

Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid

On paper the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid matches or beats the vaunted Prius in meaningful ways just as had been rumored the Koreans wanted to do as far back as 2010.

Recently launched, and still just catching on, its 1,752 sales in May topped those of the Camry Hybrid (1,711), Prius c (1,121), and Prius v (929), while being a mere shadow of the established Prius Liftback (6,064).

It’s the Liftback it is gunning for, and while even Hyundai might say it does not project its beating the Prius, anything can happen, and it at least is doing well as hybrids go as it follows the Prius formula.

SEE: 2017 Hyundai Ioniq Review – First Drive

Hyundai’s “Prius fighter” was benchmarked on the Prius, which itself was redesigned as a fourth-generation effort in 2016. No sooner did Toyota report 52 mpg for its Liftback in five trims and 56 in a base Two Eco, than Hyundai’s upstart was EPA certified with 55 mpg and 58 mpg.

In the real world, some Toyota drivers anecdotally claim higher, but the marginal victory surely beats Ford’s C-Max hybrid, which Ford once aggressively marketed as a more fun-to-drive 47 mpg Prius alternative before it revised its EPA number to 40 mpg.

On that note, Hyundai also was once caught over-estimating EPA numbers on the honor system, but after paying settlements, and with its corporate pride smitten, it has resolved to not let that happen again.

The Ioniq achieves its present status as highest mpg car sold without a plug with a smaller 1.6-liter kappa engine, single motor instead of a 1.8 with two motors as in the Toyota. It also does this without resorting to a continuously variable transmission, and gives driving enthusiasts what they want – a dual clutch automatic.

This engine matches the 40-percent thermal efficiency Toyota boasted it achieved in the new Prius, and is outstanding.

Design-wise, the Ioniq follows the Prius in form, while avoiding its techno-funky look by smoothing off some of the creases and angles toward a more blend-in appearance.

It’s too soon to call on reliability, but at this stage there’s no reason to doubt Hyundai which has produced quality vehicles and built a reputation such that it launched a new upscale Genesis brand last year to go against Lexus, Acura, Infiniti, etc.

Without a doubt the Toyota is more proven, and the Hyundai has more to prove, but is off to a good start.

Kia Niro Hybrid

Also just launched, and what do you know? The Kia Niro Hybrid with 10,488 sales year to date through May is the fourth best-selling hybrid in the U.S. behind the Prius, Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.

Like the RAV4, it’s a crossover, and that in itself helps even if it is only front wheel drive, as Americans are shifting from sedans, and are not as keen on hatchbacks as are the Europeans and other markets.

Being compact, it is much like a hatchback really, but importantly, its EPA-rated mpg of up to 50 mpg combined is right there in Prius territory.

Available in a few trims, the highest mpg is by the Niro FE, and city mpg is 52, whilst highway is 49, for that combined 50. The Niro Touring is rated 46 city, 40 highway, and 43 combined. The plain Kia Niro is rated 52 city, 46 highway, and 49 combined – very good!

This fuel economy is also quite competitive with the 46 mpg Prius c and 41 mpg Prius v. Both of these vehicles, having been on the market a few years are not selling as well as the new Korean; the Prius c has 6,182 sales and is down 39 percent from 2016, and the Prius v has 4,474 sales, and is down 27.7 percent.

Of course Toyota will refresh or replace these, so part of these numbers are the natural ebb and flow, but notable is Kia had no car so well positioned before the Niro showed up.

SEE: Kia Introduces the Niro in Chicago

Not hurting things is a price starting around $23,000.

Per Hyundai/Kia practice, the power comes from a simplified one-motor hybrid powertrain merging a dual clutch automatic, instead of one of those disliked CVTs (according to some driving aficionados, anyway).

The highly efficient engine is 1.6 liters in displacement, which when merged with the 43-horsepower motor, provides 139 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque.

And it’s all rolled into what Kia calls an “un-hybrid” design.

That statement right there is proof Kia has an ear to those not seeped in the Toyota mentality. The Koreans who aim to be second-place globally in electrified cars by 2020 are trying to make it more fun, more like a hip everyday car, not a rolling statement that you are green.

“The hybrid system is neither intrusive nor obvious,” says Kia. And acceleration is brisk, while cornering is satisfying as everyday cars go.

Advanced safety, and infotainment round out the roomy, nice-looking machine that rolls on a 106.3-inch wheelbase.

Honda Accord Hybrid

The 48-mpg Accord Hybrid offers as much as 19 mpg better fuel economy than comparable non-hybrid siblings and is outselling the Camry Hybrid which was last refreshed in 2015 with 38-40 mpg powertrain retained from 2012.

2018 Camry XLE.

Honda’s 9,184 sales are above Toyota’s 7,453 and note Honda does not roll in fleet sales as Toyota does, so these are retail customer deliveries. Have you seen all those Toyota taxis? Those count in the total, so Honda’s edge is even better if one were to exclude fleet buyers.

SEE: 2017 Honda Accord Hybrid Review – First Drive

Two monkey wrenches will soon be thrown into this equation however. This summer the updated 2018 Camry Hybrid is due with up to 52 mpg, or 46 in upper trims, and this ought to help.

Not to be outdone, maybe, Honda is also planning to show its 10th generation Accord Hybrid July 14.

2018 Honda Accord Concept sketch.

Both cars promise improvements including in sportiness, design, drive quality, and efficiency. Both are moving the dial upwards on the luxury coefficient, redefining what mid-level is to a quality that would have classified them as luxury models less than half a decade ago.

Remarkable about the Accord’s 2.0-liter powertrain is extreme thermal efficiency of the gas engine, and no actual transmission in its two-motor hybrid architecture.

The virtual CVT is made possible by the motors which act as the transmission, and the very sophisticated computer managed system is rated 49 mpg city, 47 highway, and 48 combined.

As noted, the car is well appointed, and costs more than the Camry by a couple-few thousand, stating at just over $30,000 and rising to $37,000.

Most important for the premise of this article is the dual-motor hybrid powertrain is also optimal for dropping into other vehicles, which Honda aims to do.

Honda actually beat Toyota to the U.S. market by a matter of weeks with its 2000 Insight, but for all of last decade it saw market share erode as Toyota’s more-advanced full hybrid systems outsold, and was fitted to more Toyota and Lexus models.

With what’s under the hood of the Accord, Honda need play second fiddle no more, unless that is what it wants to do. The company has been so far slow to roll out more, as its old IMA mild hybrid system was long-since amortized, and the market was soft.

With tightening regulations, we’ll see more.

More

While plug-in advocates would just as soon see hybrid go the way of an extinct amphibian, hybrids are a viable way for automakers to meet fuel economy targets this decade and next, and more are expected.

Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum notes Ford will have a dedicated hybrid with nameplate not yet decided, some time after October 2018. Baum expects Ford to terminate the C-Max when the Focus Electric is terminated at the Wayne plant mid-2018, and Ford’s Flat Rock plant will take up the new hybrid assembly.

Expect something to compete with Toyota – and Kia, Honda, and Hyundai, etc., as well, in a purpose-built hybrid platform underlying a hatchback or sedan or other form factor.

Also possible from Ford are an F-150 pickup by Fall 2019, Mustang by early 2020, and Explorer by Fall 2020, and maybe an Escape hybrid too.

2017 Honda CR-V

As noted also, Honda only needs to pick when introducing more hybrids make sense for its business plans, and first up may be a CR-V Hybrid by this fall. This could offer superior fuel economy to the now popular RAV4 Hybrid which has vaulted to third-best seller.

An AWD hybrid from Honda hovering near 40 mpg would be most welcome, and would join Nissan’s Rogue Hybrid also planned and competitively priced.

Honda has tended to content its new hybrids higher, and price them a slight bit higher too, so we shall see what its decision is with a CR-V.

Aside from these, we’d not be surprised to see new models from General Motors which likes to play its hand much closer to its chest than other automakers, but which developed the Volt’s powertrain to be used as a basis for very efficient hybrids.

And beyond these, it’s anyone’s guess, but more competitive hybrids are sure to come.


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