TOKYO (AP) — Toyota’s new gas-electric hybrid Prius doesn’t just come with more power, acceleration and range. It’s sleeker, too, ditching the rather heavy angular body for an elegantly futuristic look.
Simon Humphries, Toyota’s senior general manager of global design that unveiled the car in Tokyo on Wednesday, stressed that the company was still challenging skeptics who keep asking how much longer the Japanese automaker will stick with hybrids in an industry that is electrify quickly.
“Simply because the Prius is an ecological car within everyone’s reach. To achieve carbon neutrality, everyone in the world must participate. We need ecological solutions within the reach of many. And it has to start today, not tomorrow,” he told reporters.
The fifth-generation Prius hybrid models will go on sale this winter first in Japan and then in the US. A plug-in version will hit the market next year, according to Toyota Motor Corp. Pricing was not announced.
The automaker swapped out an older nickel-metal hydride battery for a smaller, lighter lithium-ion battery. The result will be nearly double the horsepower, quicker acceleration and 50% more range.
The Prius, which first went on sale in 1997, alternates between a gasoline engine and an electric motor to provide a cleaner drive than models with regular combustion engines.
Electric cars are zero emissions but need to be recharged. Some consumers are concerned about running out of juice on the roads. A hybrid always has the gasoline engine as a backup.
Toyota has cumulatively sold more than 20.3 million hybrid vehicles, including Prius cars, worldwide to date. The Prius, which means “pioneer” or “first” in Latin, has defined Toyota as much as a brand as its Lexus luxury models.
Still, environmentalists have sometimes criticized Toyota for delaying electrification, though some analysts say that’s a bit unfair given that other automakers also have few electric cars in their lineup, and many others have developed various hybrid models.
“The sale of more hybrid vehicles, including the Prius, drags us further into the climate crisis,” said Daniel Read of Tokyo-based Greenpeace East Asia.
Read said electric vehicles and fuel cell models were better solutions to climate change than hybrids.
Humphries said the new Prius was designed to be more stable, with a lower center of gravity, larger tires, curvaceous lines to its overall design and a sleek interior.
He said it was more of an expression of love than a commodity. Making hybrid cabs or offering them to other manufacturers could also be steps to spread the technology, she added, and Toyota chose not to.
“We really believed that the next step for the Prius was to become a ‘no compromise car’ to increase its customer appeal,” said Humphries, standing in front of a screen with the words: “We chose love.”
The Prius, with its refreshed styling and efficiency, will better compete not only with other hybrid models but also with the available generation of all-electric vehicles, said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at S&P Global Mobility.
Prius models have always served as something of a bridge to a time when there are more charging stations for electric vehicles, said Brinley, who believes the new Prius compares better with hybrids and add-ons from Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Jeep.
By adding 50% to the battery’s range, which translates to about 38 miles (61 kilometers), it can go far enough to cover the commute and around-town errands of the average American driver. The hybrid powertrain allows for road trips without worrying about a charging network that isn’t yet complete, Brinley said.
“That will really make driving safer,” he said.
Krisher reported from Detroit.
Krisher is on Twitter https://twitter.com/tkrisher
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
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