After years of study and speculation, Toyota today unveiled two new Prius vehicles at the 2011 Detroit auto show. By the time all the curtains were opened, four Prius models were displayed on stage: the familiar 50-mpg hatchback model; the Prius plug-in demo version with the same shape; a new larger model that goes on sale this year; and a small city concept Prius that promises to offer the best price and highest mpg of any hybrid on the market.
“The Prius V, which stands for versatility, looks a lot like a Prius, but it has an extended roofline, giving it nearly 60% more cargo room than the existing Prius,” said Doug Coleman, Toyota’s Prius product manager, in an interview with HybridCars.com. “That’s more than many small SUVs.” Coleman said that Toyota has been studying the idea of a larger Prius for a number of years, and decided that it was the right time to introduce the model.
Toyota estimates that the Prius V will be rated at 42 mpg in the city, and 38 on the highway. The powertrain for the Prius V is nearly identical to the one used in the current Prius model. Prius V features will include a panoramic moonroof and Toyota’s new Entune multimedia system.
“Consumers have told Toyota that they love the idea of the Prius—high fuel-efficiency, low emissions, advanced technology—but the vehicle selling today doesn’t fit their lifestyle and needs,” Coleman said. These consumers want more versatility, comfort and luxury. The final product is a segment-buster that has been difficult to describe by consumers in Toyota research. “They were perplexed. Some called it a wagon. Some called it a crossover. Some called it a hatchback. We said it’s really not any of those things.” Coleman said the EPA is going to classify it as a midsize station wagon. “That doesn’t do it justice. It’s not a crossover, because it doesn’t have a high enough ride. And it’s not a minivan certainly, because it’s not going to have sliding doors. It has seating for five.”
Does this mean that Toyota will not build a full-size hybrid minivan in the future? Not at all, according to Coleman. “We’re not there.” Coleman said Toyota continues to study how to address the engineering challenge of building a hybrid minivan with the features, cost, and convenience that consumers say they want. He showed interest in Ford’s announcement in Detroit about its upcoming C-Max hybrid and plug-in microvan.
Coming Soon: The Prius Compact
Toyota will follow its push of the Prius model to a larger more spacious format in the other smaller direction with a compact hybrid. “The Prius C concept is an inspiration for us to build a future vehicle coming in the first half of 2012 that would be the most value-oriented vehicle of the Prius family, and have the highest mileage of any cordless hybrid,” Coleman said. He said it will be oriented toward young singles and couples, but more maneuverable and affordable.
“We expect it to be the most affordable of the Priuses over the lifetime of the vehicle,” Coleman said. “It will be the size of a compact-class of vehicle with Prius DNA, and adding a little bit of fun to drive.” The C stands for city.
In less than two years, all four of the Prius models on the stage in Detroit will be available in showrooms across the United States. The addition of new models with conventional gas-electric technology is Toyota’s effort to make hybrids accessible to consumers who have previously hesitated to buy a hybrid. The current hybrid market remains below three percent of new car sales. Yet, with an entire family of Priuses, Toyota believes that Prius could become the company’s top-selling brand in a matter of years. “We’re talking about multiple hundreds of thousands of vehicles sold a year,” Coleman said.
Don’t Count Toyota Out of the Plug-in Race
The unveiling in Detroit provides a picture of Toyota’s electrification plans for the next year or two, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The company has promised 11 new hybrids by 2012, with seven as unique original nameplates. “We’re not stopping,” Coleman said. “Down the road, we’ll look at different plug-ins.”
When asked if plugging in could be built into the DNA of Toyota hybrids and specifically Prius, Coleman replied, “Absolutely.” When asked specifically if the Prius V wagon, Prius C compact, and other future Priuses might be offered with plug-in capabilities, Coleman repeated, “Absolutely. We’re looking at a lot of things.”
Correction: The header to the section about the Prius C originally said it would be the world’s first compact hybrid. As users point out in the comments, the first generation of hybrids were compacts, and the gas-electric Honda Fit, sold in Asia and Europe, is also a compact. Nonetheless, the Prius C would become the only compact hybrid available in the United States.