A few years ago I was let in on a secret: Toyota’s dreams of world domination hinged on capturing hip young buyers interested in green tech and high fuel economy. Of course, Toyota’s hybrid plans have been the worst kept secret since In-N-Out’s “secret menu” and as a result, the green Gen Y boys and girls I know in Berkeley have been excited for years about a “baby Prius”. Well kids, the blue spaceship landed in La Jolla and Toyota invited us down to take a drive. Does a hybrid Yaris with more MPGs than you can shake a stick at have what it takes help Prius become Toyota’s best-selling nameplate? Let’s find out.
Today, Toyota started Chinese production of its third gen Prius hybrid. The car is being assembled at Toyota’s joint venture plant with FAW in frigid Changchun in China’s northern Jilin Province. Sales of the vehicle will begin in early 2012. (Read More…)
Yesterday, we met Toyota Chief Engineer Satoshi Ogiso in his office in Toyota City. He is responsible for all new technology at Toyota. Yesterday, we talked mostly about the past. Now, we talk about the future.
When I ask Ogiso what car we will be driving in the future, he whips out a chart. It’s a chart which I call “Peak Oil 2.0.” (Read More…)
“Look, when we started the Prius project in 1993, we did not even think of a hybrid system for the Prius. We did not set out to build a hybrid. We studied what was needed for the 21st century, and two things were certain: The need to protect the environment, and the need to bring consumption down. That’s all we knew, and you did not need to be a clairvoyant to know it.”
The man who told me this last Friday better become clairvoyant. On Satoshi Ogiso’s shoulders rests the future of Toyota. Ogiso is responsible for all new technology at Toyota. As Chief Engineer, he is in charge of the Prius and its many siblings, he is responsible for plug-in hybrids, EVs, fuel cell hybrid vehicles, anything apart from the aging internal combustion engine is his.
I meet Ogiso at the world headquarters of the (still, officially) world’s largest automaker in Toyota City. (Read More…)
Recent Toyota ads introducing the “Prius Family” have featured the Prius C Concept to represent the forthcoming compact Prius, which will bear only the most passing resemblance to the slick showcar. But if deception was Toyota’s game, the jig is up. Der Prius wird geschrumpft (shrunk), chortles Autobild, which says these images come from a Japanese brochure that was leaked to the web. And the car pictured does look far more production-Toyota-like than the decidedly Scionesque C Concept. Is it the real thing? Will ad-attentive Toyota fans wonder where the C Concept went? Will a compact hybrid sell well in any case? These pictures are worth a thousand questions…
Every time I drive a hybrid – EVERY time – someone asks: “so where do you plug it in?” It’s as if more than 10 years of hybrid sales in the USA have gone by without the public knowing that a hybrid is not an electric car. Finally, however, Toyota has announced there will be a hybrid Prius on sale in the US where the answer isn’t “um, you don’t, the gas goes in over there.” Now the answer will be: “you plug it in up here and put gas in back there.” Yep, the 2012 Plug-In Prius is coming, so be prepared for blank stares as passers-by try to process the information. Toyota tossed us the keys for a week’s drive in a pre-production version so we could see what the hype is all about.
Fortune [via CNN]‘s Alex Taylor III is clearly as disappointed as I was with Joe Nocera’s toothless, vaguely pro-Volt piece in last Sunday’s NY Times, and he’s riled up enough about it to lay down a savage call-out the Volt hype machine. In fact, it’s a less scientific, less comprehensive (and, by virtue of the passage of time, less speculative) version of a piece my father wrote in 2008, comparing the then-undelivered Volt with the also unlaunched 3rd gen Prius and Plug-In Prius. Taylor’s foil for the Volt is the plug-in Prius, which now arrives in less than a year, and in the eyes of the longtime industry writer, the contrast is stark:
Volt enthusiasts like to recite the fact that the Volt can go 35 miles on battery-power and then shift seamlessly into gasoline-engine mode, saving on gas and reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. It is an impressive technological improvement but one that is already obsolete.
Brand extensions aren’t common in the auto industry, perhaps because they rarely (if ever) succeed. Chrysler and Oldsmobile hyperextended the LeBaron and Cutlass brands, respectively, into oblivion. But Toyota has struggled as much as anyone to sell hybrids that aren’t named Prius, so it will now attempt to sell additional models under that highly successful nameplate. First up: the Prius v (with the lowercase v for “versatile”). How far and how effectively does a second model extend the reach of the brand?
The Japanese auto industry might come back to much normal faster that thought. But then there is shippiing. It takes a while to float a few thousand cars across the Pacific. Now add high gas prices and a high demand for fuel efficient cars and you have the reason why Edmunds reports that the U.S. national inventory of the Toyota Prius is down to four-day supply. Ed Larocque, Toyota’s national marketing manager for advanced technology vehicles, told Edmunds that “production in Japan likely will return to full capacity by the end of June.” Which means that that wave of Prii won’t was ashore before end of July. (Read More…)
In the market to buy a condo in Tokyo? If you buy the right one, it will come with a car. Starting in spring 2012, Toyota plans to launch a condominium-based car-sharing program in collaboration with Japanese real estate developers. (Read More…)
Once upon a time Japanese cars came to our shores promising high fuel economy and despite feeling small and cheap, buyers flocked to the dealers. Over time however, the Japanese auto industry grew up. “Small and flimsy” are qualities that modern Japanese imports do not possess but as is the way with the world, better quality came with a price: lower fuel economy. The first generation Prius proved that good fuel economy did not mean jamming yourself into a two-seater light-weight vehicle full of compromises a family of four just couldn’t make. Still, it was far from perfect; it was dreadfully boring, felt small and cheap and was not large enough for many families.
In an era when ginormous SUVs were all the rage, the Prius’ mileage was nothing short of show-stopping and they sold like hotcakes once the Hollywood set made them the latest fashion accessory. When the third generation Prius saw the light of the automotive press, it was obvious that the upstart had grown up. Unlike the other Toyota family members however, the Prius becomes more efficient and larger with every revision. One complaint however has stuck: the Prius is just too small for some.
Steve and Sajeev: I was hoping to pick your brain for a second regarding the used Prius market right now. Help a Hammer Time follower out! I own a 2010 base Prius (Model II), and I have been seeing listings at local dealerships for base model Prius’s (????) selling for 3-4K above new MSRP prices. For instance there is one with 15K on the clock selling for 27K, when new the MSRP was around 24K.Is this actually occurring right now or are these people out of their minds? My wife and I were debating on selling it and buying a cheaper car with a smaller payment if we could actually make a decent profit on it. On the other hand, 50 MPG in the era of $5 a gallon gas is pretty great. Its a gas! Thanks for your time.
And Sajeev, I always wanted a Mercury Marauder!
It’s not every day that an automotive blogger gets to drive the future of transportation, a radical rethinking of how we interact with our private transport, and yet that’s exactly what I recently did. And no, I’m not talking about the Prius Plug-In Hybrid (PHEV)… that’s just a Prius with some larger batteries and re-worked software. No, what makes our time with this particular Prius noteworthy is that it isn’t technically private transport. Welcome to the future: the public plug-in hybrid (PPHEV).