The Prius Plugs In, A Green Tech Report
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written by Josh:
The Prius was the first mass production hybrid vehicle to hit the roads ten years ago and is still today the best selling, mass production hybrid vehicle on the market. It’s the poster-child for hybrid vehicles – even if only because of its unique cute/hideous looks.
For the last ten years, the Prius has been strictly a hybrid vehicle – meaning that while it employs a modern-age battery powered motor, it still requires fuel for those times when the juice from a battery just won’t make the cut (getting from twenty five to seventy on the interstate). It wasn’t a bad system, nor is it outdated. Sure, ten years after the Prius’ worldwide debut, the hybrid market is saturated with hybrids from almost every manufacturer, trucks, vans, sport utility vehicles, convertibles, and hatch backs; batteries and power trains arranged in every which way, but the Prius still leads the pack.
However, that’s all about to change.
Toyota’s slogan is, “Prius Goes Plural”
The first bit of news is a new, larger “crossover” Prius, which appears to be Toyota’s attempt at a modern-day, contemporary family station wagon (which seems as if it would cannibalize sales of the older, aging Matrix). Imagine a Prius with a little more cargo area. If the bar across the rear window bothered you and, like some I know, prevented you from buying a Prius, this is the car for you. The bar is gone, the cargo area has grown, and it’s now ready to take you and your kids to soccer practice.
The next Prius goes the opposite direction on the spec sheet. The Prius “C-Concept” is a smaller Prius. The thinking behind the “C-Concept” is that the trendy, eco-conscious, and obviously well heeled ones of us will want to buy one for those short trips downtown and weekend grocery runs that the E350 really isn’t necessary for. With the popularity of models like the Smartcar ForTwo and Chrysler Corporation’s import of the Fiat 500, Toyota’s own iQ (coming to the United States as the Scion iQ), not to mention the success of the reinvented Mini Cooper, Toyota felt that it needed to push a small zip-around car to the masses. And that came in the form factor of the Prius C-Concept.
So now there’s the “regular”, “normal”, or “standard” Prius, a bigger Prius, and a smaller Prius. One would think that the announcement of two new Prii (plural of Prius, pronounced: “pre-eye”) would be enough for Toyota. One would think that the invention of the hybrid gas-electric technology dubbed Synergy Drive would be enough.
In addition to the two new Prius models, Toyota is also bringing out a third, fully electric Prius. (Hear that, Nissan Leaf?)
There’s been quite a bit of confusion over what exactly the terms “hybrid” and “electric vehicle” mean when it comes to automobiles. Hybrid, of course, means an amalgamation of two things. In vehicles, that means the combination of a petrol-powered engine and an electric powered engine into one gas-electric motor. Electric vehicle, on the other hand, refers to a vehicle that runs solely on the electric current it is able to pull from a battery, similar to the process of everything from smartphones to laptop computers.
Nissan made it clear with the launch of the Leaf that it was not a hybrid. The Leaf has no gas tank and takes no fuel. You could show it a gas pump, it wouldn’t know what to do with it. The Leaf runs on electric current and electric current only. Therefore, it is not a hybrid. It is an electric vehicle.
Then Chevrolet came along with its Volt. The Volt, they said, was also an electric car (so far, just like the Leaf). Then, we find out, the Volt has a fuel tank. Although it doesn’t sip a drop of fuel until its battery runs low, petroleum is still in the equation. The Volt has a gas tank. The motor can run on gasoline. So doesn’t that qualify it as a hybrid?
We’ll leave the debate up to Nissan and Chevrolet.
When the electric Prius starts hitting the road, we’ll see how it affects sales of the Leaf. At present, the Leaf is the number one choice of most consumers in the market for a new electric vehicle. As of now, with the Volt sporting a much higher price tag, the Leaf really hasn’t had any competition. Buyers who are in the market have put in their preorders and have driven off as soon as the car comes in.
Toyota has one main advantage in what’s soon to be a competitive market. The Prius is a name that people recognize. Toyota’s spent the last decade researching and refining its hybrid technology. The Prius has been a smashing success unrivaled by other hybrids. Toyota also has among the highest brand loyalty among its customers. The electric Prius won’t only appeal to new buyers but also to current Prius owners who may be thinking of replacing their Prius or even adding one to the family.
The all-new, all-electric Prius will be hitting showrooms in early 2012 along with the Prius V. We’ll be bringing you more in-depth coverage as soon as we’re able to get inside one and test it out. Stay tuned.