TOKYO (AP) — Toyota’s new gas-electric hybrid Prius doesn’t just come with more power, acceleration and driving range. It’s also a bit sleeker, ditching the somewhat blocky, angular body for a sleek futuristic look.
Unveiling the car in Tokyo on Wednesday, Simon Humphreys, senior general manager of Toyota’s global design, stressed that the company still defies skeptics who continue to question how long the Japanese automaker will stick with a plug-in hybrid in a fast-electric industry.
“Simply because the Prius is an environmentally friendly car within everyone’s reach. In order to achieve carbon neutrality, everyone in the world must participate. We need environmental solutions within reach of the many. It must start today, not tomorrow,” he told reporters.
The fifth-generation Prius hybrid models will go on sale this winter first in Japan, then the US plug-in version will hit the market next year, according to Toyota Motor Corp. Prices have not been announced.
The automaker has replaced an aging nickel-metal hydride battery with a smaller, lighter lithium-ion battery. The result will be almost twice the horsepower, faster acceleration and up to 50% longer range.
The Prius, which first went on sale in 1997, switches between a petrol engine and an electric motor to deliver a cleaner engine than regular combustion engine models.
Electric cars are zero emissions, but they need to be recharged. Some consumers worry that they will run out of juice on the roads. A hybrid always has the gas engine as a backup.
Toyota has cumulatively sold more than 20.3 million hybrid vehicles, including Prius vehicles, worldwide to date. The Prius, which means “pioneer” or “first” in Latin, defined Toyota as much as the brand as Lexus’ luxury models.
However, Toyota has sometimes been criticized by environmentalists for being slow to go electrified, although some analysts say this is a bit unfair given that other automakers also have a few electric cars in their lineup, and have Many others have developed various hybrid models.
“Selling more hybrid cars, including the Prius, is dragging us further into the climate crisis,” said Daniel Reed of Tokyo-based Greenpeace East Asia.
Read said electric cars and fuel cell models were better solutions to climate change than hybrid cars.
Humphreys said the new Prius was designed to be more stable, with a lower center of gravity, larger tires, and graceful lines for its overall design and luxurious interior.
He said it was more of an expression of love than a commodity. He added that making hybrid taxis or offering them to other manufacturers could also be steps to spread the technology, and Toyota has decided to take neither.
“We chose love,” said Humphreys, standing in front of a screen full of the words: “We really believed the next step for the Prius was to become a ‘car without compromise’ in order to increase its appeal to customers.”
The Prius, with its new design 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 auto analyst at S&P Global Mobility.
Prius models have always served as a kind of bridge to a time when there are more charging stations for electric cars, said Brinley, who believes the new Prius stacks up better against plug-in and hybrid cars 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 average American driver’s commute and stints around town. Brinley said the hybrid powertrain allows for road trips without worrying about the charging network’s not yet complete.
“It will really lead to more confident leadership,” she said.
Kreischer reported from Detroit.
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