Toyota and Ford Disagree on Potential of Small Hybrid Minivan

Soccer moms seeking a hybrid to haul more than five passengers have, until now, been ignored by automakers. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid and other full-size SUVs offer third-row seating, but those vehicles are bigger, heavier and more expensive than many families require.

How about a new format, something like a hatchback with a higher seating position, sportier looks than a station wagon, and with third-row seating? Well, that description is a good fit for new hybrids from Toyota and Ford. Toyota will have its segment-bending hybrid on the market next year in the United States, but Ford believes the formula only works for Europe.

Last week, Toyota teased the first images of the Prius V—a new version of the quintessential hybrid morphed into a people-mover similar in size to the Mazda5 small minivan. The Prius V has a higher roof, and a broader rear end with upright window—and possibly a third-row of seats. Toyota will show off the Prius V at the upcoming Detroit Auto Show. All we know so far is that it probably will have a 2.5-liter engine, and according to Toyota, it will offer “more comfort, style and versatility.”

The redesigned conventional Ford C-Max and Grand C-Max models go on sale next month across the pond, where European customers will be offered a choice of three engines: a new 1.6-liter Ford Ecoboost gasoline direct-injection engine that offers a 20 percent fuel economy improvement over the 2.0 it replaces; as well as 1.6- and 2.0-liter diesel versions. Ford announced in May that it will eventually build both a conventional hybrid and plug-in hybrid version of its C-Max wagon-esque vehicle by 2013.

But what alternative fuel-efficient C-Max options do we get in the U.S.? Bupkis.

Automotive News today confirmed that Ford believes the five-seat C-Max isn’t big enough for American tastes, and that U.S. buyers won’t want a diesel. Instead, U.S. customers will only get the gasoline-powered seven-seat C-Max.

In May, Ford’s Nancy Gioia, director of vehicle electrification, told us: “Because Europe has a high penetration of diesel, we continue to have highly efficient, low CO2 diesel alternatives, such as our Econetic offerings and technologies, as our cornerstone across Europe. Our market feedback also shows interest in hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full battery electric vehicles.”

So, hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants of small European models, but no help from Ford for U.S. families wanting a diesel or hybrid seven-seater. Those customers can consider the gas-version of the C-Max or Mazda5—or see if the Toyota Prius V is the first family-focused hybrid. Then again, Honda is hinting at a Odyssey Hybrid. The hybrid-driving Soccer Mom is still waiting.

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  • Charles

    I think Ford is wrong, very wrong. I want a C-Max or Grand C-Max hybrid, or better yet a plug in hybrid. My current Ford Focus station wagon is getting long in tooth (6.5 years, 131000 miles). I would like to replace it with another Ford, but it must hold as much and get better MPGs. It may not last long enough for Ford to come through with a hybrid C-Max.

    Too late now, but if Mercury was still going to be around it would have been the place to sell low volume hybrids and other cars from Ford of Europe.

  • FamilyGuy

    Does anyone ever wonder how many would be Prius, Fusion, Civic or Insight drivers there are out there, but they have a family of five and can’t squeeze into one of those four seaters? You put two child seats in the back seat of almost any car, there’s no third person in the back. I can’t wait to see what the specs are on the Prius V. Or if Mazda made the Mazda5 with a hybrid choice. Something the size of a wagon, a third row of seating, good MPG, that could be my next car. I don’t need to drive a hybrid for the sake of driving a hybrid, I just really want the high MPG number. I don’t want to be that guy at the gas station swiping the credit card twice because there is a $75 limit.

    Even in my situation with a family of four, there’s no one else that can squeeze into the car. One of the Grandparents want to come for the ride? Take another car. An Aunt, Uncle, neighbor or friend? Take another car.

    I don’t need to tow. I don’t need a Highlander.

    I don’t need to seat up to eight. I don’t need a full size mini van (they really don’t seem too mini to me).

    Seating six is a beautiful number. Three rows, two people each row. No need to seat 3 in the middle row. It’s never comfortable, it just makes the vehicle wider, thus heavier, thus reducing the MPG. Sliding doors and captain chairs in the middle row seem like the way to go, easy access to that third row. Even if that third row (Rav4, if I have to) that might not be too easy to get to could work. Gives me the flexibility of seating 4 with good trunk space to pack up the family for vacation, a trip to the transfer station or Home Depot to get a large item for the house. And when I don’t need that much room to stuff in the back, I can fit two more people for a short ride.

    I hope that Toyota gets the Prius V right. I hope that Ford and Mazda and other car markers see that this sort of vehicle will sell. I believe that gas will hit $4/gallon again and I don’t want to be driving something that gets 17/23 for MPG.

  • HTH

    I need exactly what FamilyGuy needs. Whoever has this kind of car on the market first one will get sold to me.

  • Anonymous

    6-Seater is ideal. For this all it needs is a vehicle slightly wider and have 2 rows of 3 seats each. A family can go with 2 kids and 2 grandparents.

    Ideally Bigger Prius can be slightly taller wider and offer 2 rows * 3 seats each. That should do and it can still offer some low 40s MPG.

    If Bigger Prius succeeds, then Ford will bring Grand C-Max.

    Use the space as much as possible.

  • Anonymous

    I had a c-max as rental car in Europe – didn’t like it at all, won’t be a success here. But that is more car specific – I want to see what here what they call in Europe a ‘Microvan’ (like the Mazda5 or the Prius V) … and I want them as hybrid.

    I think two types of cars could be big sellers:
    – hybrid microvan
    – hybrid station wagon

    I know many potential hybrid buyers that don’t find a good fit in the current hybrid selection (either too big or too small). The hybrid marked for luxury cars is probably tiny (many luxury drivers don’t care about the environment, sad but true)

  • veek

    The decision of both manufacturers does seem to make sense. I would assume many minivan buyers are younger people with several children, and a “hybrid premium” of several thousand dollars would just not be as econmomical for most families. On the other hand, US buyers who do have the disposable income to buy a hybrid are more likely to consider a Prius, since that car has more of a “grip” on that demographic group in the US than in Europe. Therefore, those US buyers who can afford the extra money for a hybrid minivan may be more likely to consider one associated with the Prius.

  • JR

    Why reinvent the wheel. There’s already this in Europe. Just bring it to the USA. (?) What am I missing?.

  • Drew

    Why no diesels? I really have trouble believing people in N. Amer. don’t want powerful engines and 20% better fuel economy. I’ve read 1986 was the top year for fuel economy in N. America. I’d certainly like better economy than my ’73 Corolla, in car that costs 10 times as much. In the last 35 years, cars have gotten heavier, with poorer mileage. Maybe there’s some hope for the future, with the “Big 3” downsizing.