By on September 28, 2016

2016 Toyota Prius

Toyota invested plenty of time, money and effort into making its plug-in Prius Prime stand out from its lesser hybrids, and the result may have convinced the company to change its future plans.

According to Autoblog, the automaker now has doubts about keeping the regular Prius as a standalone, hybrid-only model beneath the plug-in version. With conventional hybrid sales faltering, and the Prius Prime looming over the model line, attempting to improve the technology could be pointless.

The Prius was at the forefront of gas-electric automotive technology when it bowed in the late 1990s, but technology — and market direction — is shifting. The Prius Prime offers 22 miles of all-electric range, while the current generation Prius offers a combined 56 miles per gallon. Boosting the model’s fuel economy using conventional hybrid technology would be a challenge.

“Ultimately, PHEV may be the way to go,” said Shoichi Kaneko, assistant chief engineer for the Prius Prime.

Earlier this year, Toyota made a big deal when its worldwide hybrid sales passed the nine million mark. The company still has great plans for hybrid technology, and hopes to sell 15 million hybrid vehicles by 2020. But, as low oil prices persist and sales of all hybrids suffer, the urge to pick a single, simplified path forward grows.

Compounding this is the regular model’s sales slide. Despite an extensive restyle for 2016, buyers haven’t taken a renewed interest in the Prius. The model’s best U.S. sales year was 2012.

As for the 2017 Prius Prime, its popularity can’t be judged yet, as its release date has been pushed back from this fall to early winter. Production will reportedly be cut back in anticipation of reduced demand. Whether or not the new model is a hit, there’s already plenty of reasons for Toyota to opt for a plug-in Prius range, if indeed it continues as a range.

The Prime contains a greater amount of standard equipment than its hybrid brethren, meaning a future Prius could still slot below it as a bare-bones plug-in model.

[Image: © 2016 Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

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40 Comments on “Toyota’s Future Prius Hybrids Could be Plug-in Only...”


  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Sorry but it makes zero sense to only offer plug in versions. Once you’ve created the transaxle that is capable of true EV only operation it only makes sense to offer it with the smaller less expensive battery pack. Making it capable of true EV only operation does increase MPG w/o the larger battery pack because it enables the engine to shut down at higher speeds. Now if they pulled the same BS as with their original plug in that has a low EV only speed and will fire up the ICE if the throttle is pushed a little too hard then yeah there isn’t a gain in MPG on the small battery version.

  • avatar
    PhilMills

    “Despite an extensive restyle for 2016, buyers haven’t taken a renewed interest in the Prius.”

    Let’s rewrite that for possibly improved accuracy:

    ————–
    LARGELY BECAUSE OF THE extensive restyle for 2016, buyers haven’t taken a renewed interest in the NOW-HIDEOUS Prius.
    ————–

    I’d love a Prius. But not with that face. At least they haven’t screwed up the Prius V, yet, so maybe I’ll ask Santa for one of those.

  • avatar
    romanjetfighter

    Gas is $1.85 here. Gas-only Accord gets 33 mpg combined. An additional 2-5 mpg on 55 mpg or whatever has minimal savings for gas. Also, greenies have moved on to Tesla.

  • avatar
    JimC2

    It might make the most sense to offer only the plug in with options for a regular battery or a big battery, with the regular battery being the current one from the non plug in car. (Or instead of a big battery then an auxiliary battery to augment the regular battery…)

  • avatar
    redliner

    I had a Prius and liked it for what it was. Then I bought a Chevy Volt. I never looked back.

    Toyota actively engaged in an anti-plug in car campaign while proclaiming that hydrogen is the future. PLEEase. Where exactly do I buy this hydrogen? Oh, that’s right. I can’t. Electricity? Cheap and plentiful.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I wonder if this is Toyota’s first step in backing away from hydrogen. Maybe they’re beginning to realize how foolhardy FCEVs are.

      • 0 avatar
        WheelMcCoy

        They very well knew the FCEV was a quixotic quest. But it served 2 purposes:

        1. Meeting CAFE standards
        2. Adding FUD about EVs. Slowing adoption would give Toyota a chance to catch up to Tesla, Bolt, Leaf, and Smart.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        @SCE to AUX: I wonder if this is Toyota’s first step in backing away from hydrogen

        It could be that battery tech really is advancing faster than anyone expected. One company that I keep in close contact with says they are close to mass commercial production. I’ll believe it when I get the cells into my hands, but I think they are legit. The trick is with these new technologies is getting them from the lab and into mass production. Battery companies are really tight-lipped about what they’re doing, so it’s hard to tell what’s really going on. New battery tech along with 800-volt charging would kill off any hydrogen advantages. Toyota has much better info than I do, so maybe this is a sign.

        My Leaf’s “newer” tech battery continues to do well. With older batteries, a Leaf at 37k like mine would have dropped a bar on the charge gauge without leaving the driveway when fully charged by now. Yesterday, at maybe 60-degree temps, I was able to travel 9.4 miles before the 12th bar dropped with 2/3rds of my trip at 40 mph and 1/3rd at 55 mph. That’s pretty much what it would do when new.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      There are parts of America where electricity is anything but cheap. I pay 20 cents per kilowatt hour in San Diego, and my sister in Massachusetts pays 21 cents. And that’s just the beginning. Fracking is keeping natural gas prices down, there are moves against fracking, such as New York State, and the EPA is well on the way to killing off coal fired generation. We’re moving closer to Obama’s prediction that “electricity will necessarily skyrocket.” We may bust our budgets recharging our phones!

  • avatar
    dal20402

    If the plug-in feature can be integrated into a small-battery hybrid at such low cost that it doesn’t affect the car’s competitive position in its very price-sensitive segment, then why not? Buyers don’t have to use it.

    But if they are saying they’re only going to do big-battery hybrids, they’re going to lose a lot of sales until batteries get cheaper.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      The problem with that is with a small battery plugging in your hybrid will not help the fuel economy, in fact it will often hurt it. One of the ways a conventional hybrid increases MPG is with that 50% SOC target. That means when you fire it up cold and it has to run at high idle the excess energy can be stored in the battery to be used later in the trip. Start with a full battery and there is no where to store the excess energy that occurs from a cold start and the fact that it won’t shut down at a stop until the engine reaches min operating temp.

      • 0 avatar
        yamahog

        Oh so hybrids suck because they behave like conventional cars in some circumstances?

        The battery weight penalty hurts during steady state cruise but it makes up for itself in regenerative braking. And the packaging of the Prius means it does fairly well on the freeway.

      • 0 avatar
        colin42

        Except to maintain battery life it isn’t charge to 100% when it say fully charged so it could take more charger in this very rare event.

      • 0 avatar
        afedaken

        But if the battery is full and the car is capable of electric operation, why would the engine need to start?

        Or did you mean cold as in ambient temperature, not engine temperature? If its cold, and you need a place to dump juice, i can think of worse choices than a resistive heating element.

      • 0 avatar
        bhtooefr

        As afedaken said, the engine doesn’t have to start right away if the battery can supply enough power to deal with early acceleration demands. (The Gen 4 Prius’s small battery can’t unless you’re driving really gently, but it’s also literally only 0.75 kWh for the Li-ion version.) Early Priuses, you were going to get an engine start when you turned the car on, unless you jabbed an EV button (which was aftermarket for North American cars) to prevent the start, but the new ones? Nope, it won’t start the engine unless it’s needed for cabin heating, you exceed 20 MPH, or you exceed the electric power limit.

        And, well, you can precondition the cabin on electric, too, so dumping tons of juice in a resistive heating element (or a heat pump, as on the Prius Prime) isn’t even needed, if your small battery is big enough to propel the car.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Going all plug-in for the Prius is a bad move. Requiring a plug is an addition barrier to the sale.

    As much as I like plug-ins, one reason they aren’t more plentiful is the fact that YOU NEED A PLUG. Many, many current Prius customers don’t have a plug available for their car. One reason hybrids took off in the first place is that you treat them like regular gas cars.

    The prior plug-in Prius sold so poorly that Toyota killed it off.

    • 0 avatar
      JimC2

      Sell it with two plugs: One plug that fits in a regular 110V wall socket and one that fits in a big socket (220V laundry dryer). Of course, the 110V plug really a trickle charger and effectively charges fast enough to add about 1 mile of range per hour of being plugged in. The point of all that is to **not scare away prospective customers** who are anxious about putting in one of these mysterious “charging stations” in their home.

      Anyway, I’m sure there is a committee of smart people at Toyota HQ who are discussing all these things.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        No need for two plugs most of today’s EVs and PHEVs come with what is frequently called a convenience cord. (I know Leafs, Focus EV and Ford Energi cars do at least) That plugs into the sole port and has the standard 110v plug or you can plug your home or commercial charging station into that same port.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          That’s even better and less likely to scare off (as I put it) consumers- one plug with an adaptor.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            There is no adapter it plugs directly into the same socket either way. The onboard charger then determines the input voltage and adjusts accordingly automatically. Now you will need an adapter for using a 220v charger that has a CHAdeMO with your SAE plug and vice versa.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “There is no adapter it plugs directly into the same socket either way”

            I was talking the socket in the wall of your house- the extra big kind for an electric dryer (laundry dryer) because these are very common and they can handle a lot of juice, and the regular kind because they are universal (although they really can’t handle much juice… which is why I approximated “1 mile range per hour”).

            Hope that all makes sense.

          • 0 avatar
            Scoutdude

            But the convenience cord is only rated for 15a @110v. To get the on board charger to recognize that it is getting 220v requires the EVSE to send a signal identifying the higher voltage and the max amperage it is rated for. The car then sends a signal back telling the EVSE to let the 220v power through and then when the on board charger determines the battery is full to shut it off.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            “No need for two plugs most of today’s EVs..”

            Let me clear up some of the confusion. On my Leaf, I have two ports. One Level 2/1 J1772 port and a larger separate CHAdeMO port.

            For the J1772, I can use either a 30 amp public J1772 EVSE, the 12 amp convenience cord, or my portable level 2/1 EVSE.

            The portable is an option to a dedicated unit at home. It’s a swiss army knife survival tool kind of device for charging a car. With a set of adapters, I can plug it into 120 or 240 volt outlets. I plug in an adapter and it figures out the voltage etc. I even have a feature where I can adjust the current it draws anywhere from 1 to 19 amps when it’s charging from 120 volts. One amp means I could charge from a small generator in an extreme emergency, and 19 amp capability gets me near level two charging speed when there is a 20 amp outlet and no 240 volt available. On the 240 volt side, it’s adjustable as well and could charge at 50 amps if the car was capable of it.

            If I need to, I can even charge at campgrounds since it can hook up to NEMA 14-50 RV outlets. That enables travel into areas without conventional charging stations and perfect if you camp. Some campgrounds have even published on plugshare to get a little extra income from EV owners.

          • 0 avatar
            shaker

            @mcs:”The portable is an option to a dedicated unit at home. It’s a swiss army knife survival tool kind of device for charging a car. With a set of adapters, I can plug it into 120 or 240 volt outlets…”

            What brand of EVSE is this? I may try this with my Volt if I don’t read any horror stories about violating the warranty… Thanks!

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        The thing about a plug-in hybrid is that you really don’t have to plug it in if you don’t want to (although then you lose the advantage over a regular hybrid). I plug in my C-Max Energi, but if I had just wanted a regular C-Max hybrid at the time I leased it, I might have ended up with an Energi anyway because the lease was cheaper after manufacturer and tax incentives. It’s a bit heavier, so gas economy is just a bit worse, but the difference is small.

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          * I know that *
          * You know that *

          But a lot of consumers still don’t know that ;)

        • 0 avatar
          mattwc1

          As an aside, how do you like the C-Max Energi? I was tempted with the lease rate a while back but didn’t pull the trigger (It would have been my first lease). I currently own a Honda Insight (re: Prius lite) that regularly exceeds the EPA’s MPG claim but the lease rate of the C-Max really intrigued me. Plus, I have the usage of a fast charger at work.

        • 0 avatar
          Conslaw

          I went with the regular C-Max hybrid over the Energi even though I would have loved to have the plug-in, because there simply wasn’t enough cargo room left in the Energi. I would love my next car to be a plug-in hybrid, but it has to have at least as much cargo room as the C-Max hybrid, and that’s not saying too much because the C-Max hybrid’s cargo room is its biggest deficiency. It seems to me that carmakers could add lost trunk and hatch space to their hybrids by making them a little longer. Most hybrids whether sedans or hatchbacks only have 11-13 Cu-ft trunk or covered hatch space, compared to 13-20 cu-ft of trunk space in most sedans. (On paper, the hybrid hatchbacks usually say over 20 cu-ft; but that must include filling the space to the roof so you can’t see out.) I’m guessing the C-MAX Energi only has about 8 Cu-ft of covered hatchspace.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Just because it has a plug doesn’t mean that you would have to use it. My friend bought a C-Max Energi even though she lived in a condo with no plug available to charge it. She did charge it at public stations though and when visiting friends where she could. Of course her goal was to buy a house before too much longer which she eventually did, but not before half of her 36 month lease was up, thanks to her foot dragging boy friend which took near a year to prep his Condo so we could list it.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I don’t think you guys are getting my point.

      Plugs don’t bother EV fans like us. But they’re VERY off-putting to people who want the simplest, most conventional car ownership experience.

      The plug-in hybrid has two ranges – EV and gas.

      The plug-in hybrid wants to be plugged in, even if it isn’t. Building such a car will raise its price, repelling consumers.

      The plug-in hybrid changes the ownership experience, requiring monitoring of two fuels. With today’s busy lives, most people don’t want to be bothered. They just want to pull up to their apartment building, or park on the street, or in the garage, without thinking about anything but running into the house. Having just 110V in your garage may work, but it’s still an extra step for people used to just putting gas in their car.

      If Toyota produces only a plug-in Prius, sales will plummet dramatically.

      • 0 avatar
        afedaken

        How does the plugin system necessitate more work on the part of the end user? If they want to plugin, they do. If they don’t, then it’ll just sip that much more gas.

        You could conceiveably drive this thing just like the current Prius…

        …and every other non-ev car out there. Pump in the gasoline, and drive away.

      • 0 avatar
        shaker

        I may run a gallon or two out of my Volt’s tank and top it off before the cold of winter sets in – that way I shouldn’t have to stand outside my car in a blizzard holding on to a fuel nozzle – just plug it in every evening (garage, lucky me). The car itself may burn a gallon over winter to keep the engine lubricated – and I may run the engine manually on longer drives to take advantage of the waste engine heat (not a good idea on short hops).

        If you’re never going to plug it in, then no, you should stick with a regular hybrid, especially ones like the C-Max, where you give up a fair amount of cargo room for the bigger battery.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “But they’re VERY off-putting to people who want the simplest, most conventional car ownership experience.”

        I doubt that most people give this any thought at all.

        The primary issue with the Prius plug-in is that it costs more than the regular Prius. The average car buyer doesn’t see much reason to pay the premium when the regular Prius is already good enough.

        Typically, buyers of dual-fuel cars end up relying upon the “normal” fuel, while hardly using the “alternative” fuel at all. (Case in point were the dual gasoline/LPG cars that were sold in Australia — most drivers end up just using gasoline, even though the LPG was cheaper and readily available.) If buyers understand that the car doesn’t need to be plugged in and it is priced correctly, then there won’t be an issue.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Could they be less ugly. Those taillights at night accentuate all the bizarre angles on the rear end in particular. It’s like a 58 Cadillac and a Prius had a baby – it doesn’t work.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    I wonder if Toyota is watching to see how the new Chrysler Pacifica plug-in ‘only’ shakes out. If they’re not, they certainly should be.

  • avatar
    shaker

    Which bridge is in that photo?

    I like the message in the photo – think about the pure EV owner coming upon this bridge – I’d be they’d glance at their range meter…

    Now, the upcoming Bolt could actually use the same bridge as a selling point:

    “Nervous? No need with the Bolt’s 238 Mile* range!”

    *EPA est.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    The sales slide may have more to do with those damn ugly tail lights. I have family members considering a Prius, but … although they are “secure” financially, they’d only buy used because of the UGLY on the new one.


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