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