The first version of the Toyota’s plug-in hybrid Prius was “a failure,” says Koji Toyoshima, the chief engineer for the car. But he fully expects thing to turn around when the Prius Prime, the second generation Prius plug-in hybrid, goes on sale later this year.
Known as Prius Prime in the US and Prius PHV in other markets, Toyoshima says his company is targeting sales of 60,000 cars a year. That is more than the prior model sold in in the 3+ years it was on the market. Half of those sales are expected in the North American market and the other half in Japan. The company expects only a few will be sold in Europe.
Getting to 60,000 sales annually is a must for the upcoming Prime, says Toyoshima. “Going forward, there will be much broader competition in plug-in hybrids,” he says. “We have to sell this much. Otherwise, we will not be able to win in the next round.”
The Toyota Prius Prime will face stiff competition from new models coming to market from Honda and Hyundai. A plug-in hybrid version of the Clarity will arrive sometime next year as well as a similar car based on the Ioniq chassis. In addition, the Chevy Volt and Hyundai Sonata PHEV are also in the mix. A host of offerings from Germany will be arriving soon as well.
Toyota targeted three areas of improvement for the second generation Prius Prime plug-in hybrid:
1. Longer electric only cruising range.
2. Clearer differentiation from the standard Prius.
3. Easier battery recharging.
The new car will have 22 miles of electric only range, double that of the old car but less than half what the Chevy Volt offers. Toyoshima says Toyota carefully struck a careful balance between electric only range and overall fuel economy. Adding batteries would boost range but also increase the weight of the car, hurting fuel economy. More batteries would also sacrifice cabin and cargo space, he added.
The new Prius PHEV can reach speeds up to 84 mph on the electric motor alone. In the first generation car, the gasoline engine kicked in whenever the car was travelling at 62 miles per hour or more. That will be useful for people who commute short distances on the highway to complete their trip using electric power alone.
The new Prius Prime will also be more visually distinct from its traditional hybrid cousin. It will get a different headlight treatment, tail lights that are set further apart, and an optional tablet sized touchscreen on the inside. It will also offer a rooftop solar panel to help recharge the battery and extend range. That option will not be available at first on cars sold in the US because the panel does not yet meet US rollover crash standards.
Will the changes be enough to reinvigorate Prius PHEV sales? Toyota needs this car to help it meet ever tightening fuel economy and emissions standards. It has invested a lot of time and effort in making the new car more appealing to shoppers. We won’t know for about a year whether all that hard work will pay off for Toyota.
Source: Automotive News