By on November 15, 2011

Back on Friday, Toyota’s Chief Engineer Satoshi Ogiso and TTAC talked about the past of the Prius, and the future of the automobile. Back to the here and now: We also talked about a car that has been a (badly kept) secret until today: A compact hybrid that suddenly makes former miser-meisters (such as the Honda Insight or the Mazda2) look like gas guzzlers. It is the Toyota Aqua, probably called Prius C when and if it lands on other shores.

With an unheard-of fuel efficiency of 35 km/L (82.3 mpg) as measured under the new Japanese JC08 test cycle, or 40 km/L (94 mpg) when measured in the 10-15 cycle, the car is 30 percent better than its segment competitors.

  • Honda’s new compact Insight hybrid delivers 27.2 km/L (64 mpg) as measured under the JC08 test cycle and 31 km/L (72.9 mpg) as when measured in the 10-15 cycle.
  • Mazda’s new Demio, better known as the Mazda2 stateside, wrings 25 km/L (JC08, 58.8 mpg) or 30km/L (10-15, 70.5 mpg) out of a conventional engine using Mazda’s Skyactiv technology.

These numbers are definitely non-EPA. Ogiso wouldn’t even hazard a guess for the EPA number.

Ogiso worked his team hard to get to these numbers:

“Usually, people look at the competition and want to be a few percent better. I set the Aqua target at 40 kilometers per liter. That is 30 percent better than the competition. Everybody said: How can you set that target so high? Why is that number needed? If the competition is at 30 kilometers, aren’t 35 good enough?”

Not for Ogiso and not for Toyota, which is finding its old fighting spirit after the many setbacks it had to endure. Not only is the car a super-saver at the pump, it also will be priced “affordably” when it will be launched in Japan in late December 2011. The exact price remains under wraps, and may not even be announced at the Tokyo Motor Show. The Nikkei [sub] had figured it will cost $4,000 less than the Prius.

Remember when Ogiso thought back to the bad old pre-Prius days?

“At the time, the battery, motor, controller, these components were all huge and heavy. I drew a compact car, 4 meters or so long, with enough interior for 4 passengers. The rest of the space was very tiny, and I had to stuff these huge components somewhere.“

With the Aqua, he had to repeat that feat again.

“Cost, size, and weight is greatly reduced from the original Prius.”

Prius hybrid technology had to be further miniaturized to fit into a car that is 157.3 inches long (Prius: 175.6) and has a slightly shorter 100 inch wheelbase (Prius: 106.3).

Ogiso thinks this car will send other makers back to their CAD stations:

“The Prius is the game changer in the midsize class. The Aqua will be the game changer in the compact class in Japan.”

Just in Japan? What about the rest of the world? Ogiso cites “currency and production issues” that might delay the arrival of a Prius C on other shores. A Prius C  is tied to where Prius hybrids are made, and that’s Japan, Thailand and soon China. The expensive parts, the power trains come solely from Japan. The high yen doesn’t make Japanese exports low cost. That’s one thing Ogiso can’t engineer.

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29 Comments on “Toyota’s Prius Chief Engineer Reveals The Future Of The Automobile. Part Three: A Game Changer In The Compact Class...”

  • avatar

    I’d L-O-V-E to get 94 mpg, which would average just over a gallon of gas a day on my 100-mile R/T commute!

    I hate to say it, but I may be willing to say good-bye to my beloved Impala for something like this. BUT – if Chevy would get something similar but larger and average 75 mpg and it would “happen” to have the Impala name on it – that would be better yet!

    I can dream, can’t I?

    This is a really cool development, though, so I’ll be looking for more information on this car and this technology.

    Bertel, this is big stuff if this turns out to be real and not hype.

  • avatar

    Suck it Hyundai!

  • avatar

    These must be some interesting test cycles. And is there any plug-in technology involved? If not, it’d be interesting to know which aspect of thermodynamics and/or aerodynamics is being reinvented here. Or have they found a way to make a radically lighter car without resorting to exotic materials?

    Eagerly awaiting Part IV.

  • avatar

    What is the price of that car?

  • avatar

    You had me right up until the “and soon China” part…

    • 0 avatar

      They basically have to go elsewhere. The price of the Yen is crushing the Japanese auto industry. America has certainly gotten a lot of production out of the high yen as well.

    • 0 avatar

      I don’t think this necessarily means that Chinese-made Prius Cs will make their way to North America anytime soon. Just that they’ll see the C before we do.

  • avatar

    Is that a picture of the battery with an electric cooling fan?

  • avatar

    I feel like I’m becoming a Bertel fanboy. You are getting at real auto-industry stuff that we have been missing all these years. The blogs and the rags trip over each other to write the exact same reviews and there is tons of meat going unreported.

    I want to know why cars are designed the way they are. What are the engineers thinking? What compromises do they need to make? What are the constraints from marketing, safety, manufacturing that make cars the way they are?

    Props to Toyota for letting you in. Sure, it’s a PR session, but it’s way more interesting than a lousy media event. It’s great to get to hear from the engineers rather than the marketers.

  • avatar

    If the Honda Insight Hybrid gets 64 mpg under the JC08 standard, and 42 combined mpg under the EPA, then a Prius C that gets 82.3 mpg under JC08 should be in the ball park of 55 mpg here. Assuming that the vehicles tested for JC08 are the same as the ones we get here. Still a legit 55 mpg would be awesome :)

  • avatar

    If Toyota is finding its “old fighting spirit”, that’s great news for anyone who cares about cars. Even if you’ll never own a Toyota, they can put pressure on the brands that you like better.

    I’ll probably be shopping for something in this size class in the next year or so, and the C will be on my list. We can all imagine its role: slower, heavier, and looser-handling than Fit, Accent, Mazda2, Fiesta. But it’s a big bet on high gas prices, and it represents a way to make those dollars irrelevant in your life. That could be important to a lot of people, and I’m trying to figure out whether it’s important to me.

    I like when competition provides big choices, not just copycat cars. Even if I don’t buy the Prius C, I’m glad it will exist.

    Same story with the FT-86. The better it is, the better its competitors will have to be. Take no prisoners, Toyota.

  • avatar

    Thank you so much for this in-depth interview with Ogiso-san. The Prius c Concept got me excited because of what it was – a smaller, more stylish, more efficient Prius.

    Unfortunately, and this is hardly Ogiso-san’s fault, the transition from concept to production car has been nearly as dramatic (and disappointing) as the Chevy Volt’s. The concept wrote checks this Aqua can’t cash. It looks like a melange of Yaris, Nissan Micra, and Mazda2 elements, all combined into a very bland car-loaf.

    As I said, not the engineer’s fault, but they could have made the car look a little more “special”. Instead, they carried over precisely zero elements from the Prius c concept. If/when it comes to America, I doubt it will do well, for no other reason than hybrids that don’t “look” hybrid have yet to come anywhere close to the very hybrid-looking Prius. I know that sounds silly considering the c is more efficient, but aesthetics matter.

  • avatar

    If three kid booster seats fit across the back, and it gets 60 mpg, and is under 20k, we will gladly be first in line. And I imagine half my neighbors would be right behind me.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not expecting it to have that much space. This is a Yaris/Fit-sized thing, and I think 3 small people even *without* booster seats would be tight.

      On the other hand, I have found that a 5th child can fit very well in the trunks of these cars. I keep a roll of duck tape back there, you know, for safety.

  • avatar

    Yet another car that will not be coming to our shores anytime soon . . .

  • avatar
    Vance Torino

    If that’s the real Prius C (Aqua? Really, JDM?), it’s the first time I’ve seen its final form – and, well, it’s NOT AS BAD as I expected. Sort of Yaris-y in the generic Toyota idiom. Doesn’t broadcast it’s hybrid-ness, tho. (Which is not a small part of the regular Prius appeal.)

    All minor sins absolved if fuel economy is awesome and price reasonable.

    Otherwise, it will join the Insight, CR-Z, and HS250 in hybrid purgatory.

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