Two Tribes: Toyota's Non-hybrids Aren't Likely to See Their Rear Axles Suddenly Go Electric

two tribes toyotas non hybrids arent likely to see their rear axles suddenly go

Toyota opened up its Prius line to slightly more rugged buyers this year, introducing an AWD-e variant of its once very popular hybrid that uses a rear-mounted electric motor to lend a helpful shove when traction gives way up front.

The model introduction, accompanied by hints of wider availability of all-wheel drive in Toyota’s lineup, coincided with the announcement of a front-drive Corolla hybrid for 2020. Could rear, electrically powered axles one day become Toyota’s go-to recipe for four-wheel traction? Not exclusively, it seems.

Speaking recently to The Drive, Toyota spokesman David Lee waxed poetic about the Prius AWD-E’s innovative back end, but said its place in the automaker’s lineup will likely remain limited.

Removing the mechanical link between the front-mounted engine and transmission and the rear axle has its advantages, he said. “We can computer-control it even more finely than we do with a clutch-driven, computer-controlled gas all-wheel-drive system, we have better control over [what the system is doing].”

While such a setup can be beneficial in terms of weight, performance and fuel economy, Lee added that he doesn’t see the system being applied to anything other than an existing hybrid vehicle. Hybrid variants of the RAV4 and Highlander already use a rear-mounted electric motor to motivate the rear wheels, while their gas-only counterparts go the tried-and-true driveshaft route.

“I think what you’re going to see is we will continue to try to offer electric all-wheel-drive on our hybrids as appropriate,” Lee concluded. “I think on our gas models, I wouldn’t anticipate a gas front-wheel-drive with an electric back end.”

Automakers like Polestar have split — and segregated — the duties of gasoline and electric propulsion, offering drivers of the Polestar 1 the ability to operate the vehicle solely as a rear-drive electric or a front-drive gas burner. The two systems can be combined for a high-horsepower, AWD experience. Pricier, sportier applications are where such a setup would shine, but Toyota’s lineup may not be the right place to start looking for such a future vehicle.

Still, the desire to broaden its AWD offerings means Toyota might think about adding electric AWD versions to hybrids like the Camry and Avalon, as well as the 2020 Corolla (though such a move might cannibalize Prius sales in the latter example).

[Image: Toyota]

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  • Zipster Zipster on Apr 01, 2019

    I lament the fact that I am not "slightly more rugged" and will therefore not qualify for the all wheel drive variant. I can only look with envy upon those rugged people who qualify for all wheel drive.

  • Truckducken Truckducken on Apr 01, 2019

    Wait, so vehicles without batteries to drive rear electric motors will not get rear electric motors? I am absolutely shocked at this insightful reporting.

    • See 1 previous
    • Stuki Stuki on Apr 02, 2019

      What people use awd drive for, 90+% of the time, is simply getting unstuck. Even truck drivers rarely use it for more than muddy dirt parking lots and boat ramps. Those 30 second spurts don't require much in the way of a battery. Very few use their awd vehicles to tow heavy forestry equipment deep into BC backwoods, and those who do, aren't shopping for Corollas and Ravs anyway.

  • Ronnie Schreiber From where is all that electricity needed to power an EV transportation system going to come? Ironically, the only EV evangelist that I know of who even mentions the fragile nature of our electrical grid is Elon Musk. None of the politicians pushing EVs go anywhere near it, well, unless they are advocating for unreliable renewables like wind and solar.
  • FreedMike I just don’t see the market here - I think about 1.2% of Jeep drivers are going to be sold on the fuel cost savings here. And the fuel cost savings are pretty minimal, per the EPA: fuel costs for this vehicle are $2200 and $2750 for the equivalent base turbo-four model. I don’t get it.
  • FreedMike How about the “Aztek” package? Wait, this car already has that…Said it before and I’ll say it again: they need to restyle the hind end on this car, stat.
  • Johnster "Vale" is the [s]cheap[/s] lower-priced performance version with black trim and stiff suspension."Mist" is the "DeLuxe" version with a bit more chrome and trim. (Sort of like the "Decor Package" option.)"Magentic" is the full-on Brougham treatment (in its current state) with more chrome trim than the "Mist" and all sorts of gimmicky electronic features inside. (Sadly, it will not include simulated landau irons or a vinyl covered roof, even as an option.)"Aurora" is the Oldsmobile of Cadillacs (sort of like the old Cadillac Calais). No, that's not right. It's the top-of-the-line model, sort of a "Grand Touring" version, with not as much chrome as the "Magentic" but all of the gimmicky electronic features and a stiffer suspension.
  • Drew8MR Why can't CARB leave hobbyists alone? Maybe lay off the low hanging fruit and go after the gross polluters. Bring back the rolling exemption.