Toyota will unveil the new Auris Hybrid and gas-electric Lexus LF-CH at the upcoming Frankfurt Auto Show, signaling the direction of the company’s hybrids for European customers. With its small and sporty concept hybrids, Toyota aims at the biggest part of the European market. Five-door hatchbacks are the best selling type of car in Europe.
The Toyota Prius dominates the US hybrid market, and has been the No. 1 selling passenger car in Japan for the past four months. But Europe’s fuel-efficient offerings primarily are comprised of diesel vehicles, increasingly combined with micro-hybrid stop-start functionality. Toyota hopes hybrid hatchbacks—smaller and with sharper design features compared to jelly-bean-like US hybrid offerings—will attract Europeans to gas-electric cars.
Toyota Auris Hybrid
Toyota applies its third-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive system to the Toyota Auris—a hatchback that shares a platform with the Toyota Corolla. The company made styling changes and lowered the ride height to improve aerodynamics. A larger, more efficient rear spoiler is also fitted. These aerodynamic elements target a drag coefficient of 0.28—compared to the Prius’s 0.25.
The specs match those of the Toyota Prius: 1.8-liter, 98 horsepower engine, 60 kW traction motor, nickel metal hydride battery pack, acceleration from 0 to 60 mph in around 10 seconds, and class-leading fuel efficiency and low emissions. Like the Prius, drivers can choose between Eco, Power, and EV modes—and have the option for rooftop solar panels to support ventilation and some dashboard functions.
The new Auris Hybrid will be built in the UK beginning in the second half of 2010, with sales scheduled before the end of the year. No details yet on pricing or US availability.
Lexus LF-Ch Hybrid
Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, will use the new LF-Ch platform for an upscale variation of a European sport hatchback hybrid. The idea is to provide a hybrid alternative to the BMW 1-Series, Audi A3 and Volvo C30. Analysts speculate that the LF-Ch will also come in gas and diesel versions.
Lexus is apparently using the Frankfurt show this month, and the 2009 Los Angeles Auto Show in December, to get feedback for final decisions. “We look forward to hearing feedback on the LF-Ch,” said Mark Templin, Lexus division group vice president and general manager. “We hope consumers like what they see so we can change the luxury hybrid marketplace again.”
Boil down the Lexus press release—all we really have at this stage—to get the LF-Ch formula: sporty, five-door package, dramatic style, premium features, innovative drivetrain, low emissions, and impressive fuel economy.
To give the sense of a coupe, designers blackened the B-pillar and hid the rear door entry button in the chrome molding. They also use an aggressive grille design and wide front bumper, and use LED taillights and headlamps. A wide grip steering wheel with integrated paddle shifters dresses up the interior. Like the Auris Hybrid, the LF-Ch offers multiple driving modes—Normal, Eco, and EV—and adds a Sport mode. Lexus also provides the mouse-like control found on the 2010 HS 250h, a luxury hybrid-only model not sold in Europe.
Luxury buyers traditionally have wanted oomph to come with styling, size and upscale features. It remains to be seen if new carbon-constrained realities will push luxury buyers toward smaller packages and hybrid drive over horsepower—either in Europe or the US.
To Be Real
Toyota’s competitors will also unveil hybrid and plug-in models in Frankfurt, but those tend to be more futuristic (see BMW Vision EfficientDynamics) and not headed for production anytime soon, if at all. Toyota’s hybrids on display, on the other hand, are concept in name only. Besides minor flourishes strictly for garnering attention at a crowded auto show, Toyota’s hybrid hatchbacks appear practical and ready to hit the road.