Next month, Toyota will unveil a minivan-like larger Prius at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show. To create a groundswell of buzz around the vehicle, the company started teasing images of the new model in October, on the 10th anniversary of the Toyota Prius arriving to the United States. Making sense of that image, and one that followed in November, required Prius fans to assemble jigsaw puzzle pieces—first on a giant billboard, then on the PriusChat.com website, and now distributed to “the most influential people in the Prius community.” Guess what? HybridCars.com has one of the pieces.
Toyota itself is going through a process of figuring out a puzzle: how to keep the Prius relevant in a market which now includes vehicles that, at least according to the E.P.A., provide more miles per unit of energy—whether gasoline or electricity. The Prius, with its 50-mpg rating, still stands leagues ahead of all other pure gas-powered cars. But the all-electric Nissan LEAF, and the Chevy Volt (while it’s running on electricity) are rated above 90-mpg equivalent.
Toyota’s answer is making the Prius available in different sizes, from compact to minivan, in an effort to turn the quintessential hybrid into a multi-vehicle minibrand. The first two images of the Prius V give a glimpse of a model that will offer more space and comfort than the current Prius, while providing fuel economy worthy of the model’s name.
Toyota has released few details, but the rumor mill has a 2.5-liter engine powering the Prius V—a bump up from 1.8 liters in the current Prius—to provide sufficient oomph for the larger size.
The other piece of the puzzle is cost and availability. Toyota is getting close to its long-term goal of selling 1 million hybrids per year. That means economies of scale and erasing the hybrid premium to just about nothing. In other words, Toyota should be able to produce its new larger Prius at a price competitive with other similar conventional models. And unlike the electric competition, it should roll out by the tens of thousands to dealerships throughout the country—just like a regular car—rather than trickle out via waiting lists.
And in 2012, Toyota will release its own plug-in model, the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, as well as two pure electric vehicles. In the meantime, we need to get a more complete picture of what the Prius V looks like—and that requires taking the puzzle piece (shown here) to ToyotaPriusProjects.com and joining it up with the others distributed throughout the web.