TOKYO (AP) — Toyota’s new Prius gas-electric hybrid not only offers more power, acceleration and range. It’s also sleeker, doing away with the rather heavy angular body for a sleek futuristic look.
Simon Humphries, senior managing director of Global Toyota Design who unveiled the car in Tokyo on Wednesday, pointed out that the company is still defying skeptics who keep asking how much longer the Japanese automaker will stick to hybrids in an industry undergoing electrification.
“Simply because the Prius is an eco-car within everyone’s reach. To achieve carbon neutrality, everyone in the world must participate. We need ecological solutions within the reach of as many people as possible. And it has to start today, not tomorrow,” he told reporters.
Fifth-generation Prius hybrid models will go on sale this winter first in Japan, then in the United States. A plug-in version will hit the market next year, according to Toyota Motor Corp. Prices have not been announced.
The automaker replaced an older nickel-metal-hydride battery with a smaller, lighter lithium-ion battery. The result will be almost double the power, faster acceleration and 50% longer range.
The Prius, which first went on sale in 1997, alternates between a gasoline engine and an electric motor to provide a cleaner ride than regular combustion engine models.
Electric cars are zero emissions but need to be recharged. Some consumers worry about running out of juice on the roads. A hybrid always has the gasoline engine as backup.
Toyota has so far sold more than 20.3 million hybrid vehicles, including Prius, worldwide. The Prius, which means “pioneer” or “first” in Latin, defined Toyota as a brand as much as its luxury Lexus models.
Still, Toyota has at times been criticized by environmentalists as dragging its feet on electrification, although some analysts say that’s a bit unfair given that other automakers also have few electric cars in its lineup, and that many others have developed various hybrid models.
“Selling more hybrid vehicles, including the Prius, is taking us further into the climate crisis,” said Daniel Read of Tokyo-based Greenpeace East Asia.
Read said electric vehicles and fuel cell models are better solutions to climate change than hybrids.
Humphries said the new Prius was designed to be more stable, with a lower center of gravity, bigger tires, curved lines for its overall design and a sleek interior.
He said it was more an expression of love than a commodity. Making hybrid cabins or offering them to other manufacturers could also be a step to spread the technology, he added, which Toyota has decided to reject.
“We really thought the next step for the Prius was to become a ‘car without compromise’ to increase its appeal to the customer,” Humphries said, standing in front of a screen splattered with the words: “We chose the love.”
The Prius, with its revamped styling and efficiency, will compete not only with other hybrid models, but also with the available generation of all-electric vehicles, said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst for S&P Global Mobility.
Prius models have always served as a gateway to a time when there were more electric vehicle charging stations, said Brinley, who thinks the new Prius compares better to hybrids and plug-ins from Hyundai, Kia, Fords and Jeeps.
Adding 50% to the battery range, which translates to around 38 miles (61 kilometers), it can go far enough to cover the average US driver’s trips and errands around town. The hybrid powertrain allows road trips without worrying about a charging network that isn’t yet full, Brinley said.
“It will really make driving more confident,” she said.
Krisher reported from Detroit.
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