Toyota readies new plug-in for ‘Prime’ time

Calling the first-generation Prius plug-in hybrid a failure — in terms of sales — the chief engineer on the redesigned and renamed Toyota Prius Prime expects success for the new model.

When Toyota introduced its Prius PHV (plug-in) four years ago, it is more than likely that the automaker believed sales would shoot through the roof. And, though sales were respectable – 18,750-a-year – they never reached the levels that the automaker apparently had hoped they would. The lead engineer, in fact, pulled no punches in calling the older model “a failure.”

“We cannot say that the last generation, in terms of sales, was a success. I would have to say it was a failure,” Koji Toyoshima told Automotive News in a story published Sunday.

Toyota has taken the wraps off the new Prius Prime (still the PHV in Japan) and the hybrid plug-in is ready to take on the competition. Indeed, according to Toyoshima, the Prime is about to make a name for itself and sell in respectable numbers. Well, that’s the hope, the reality is, honestly, unknown because the Prime is still an unknown and untested entity. It has entered the market at a time of lowered gasoline prices, raging crossover sales and an expectation that more efficient, but standard gasoline powerplants will still be the wave of the future – at least the near future.

You can hardly fault Toyoshima for his excitement because it is a new package whose development he directed. He does expect big things – 60,000 sales per year, half in the U.S. and a half in Japan with a smattering elsewhere.

There’s a delicious irony between his sales prediction and the total number of first-generation models sold. Since its launch in 2012, the Prius plug-in hybrid has sold a total of 75,000 or 18,750-a-year. Now, its chief engineer is predicting yearly sales will nearly match the figure generated over four years in its first year.

Toyota did a top-to-bottom makeover of the Prius lineup for 2017. Toyoshima led the development effort for the line, both standard hybrid and plug-in hybrid models. The conventional hybrid has been available in Japan since December. In January, it became available in the U.S.

One of the priorities in developing the plug-in hybrid was creating a vehicle for a field that is becoming increasingly crowded. For example, Honda is set to debut the Clarity, while Hyundai will jump in with its Ioniq. Also, there are also plug-in hybrid models available from German and American manufacturers. Given the competition, Toyota must “sell this much (60,000 per year). Otherwise, we will not be able to win in the next round,” Toyoshima emphasized in an interview published by Automotive News Sunday, “… Going forward, there will be much broader competition in plug-in hybrids,” he said. Toyoshima believes Toyota must be a major player in this market. To do so, the automaker will use a simple strategy. They will “hop, skip and jump” to larger plug-in sales volumes.

In discussing his team’s priorities, Toyoshima said the automaker has focused on:

  • Longer cruising range
  • Clear differences from the standard Prius
  • Eased battery charging

Looking specifically at the standard hybrid, Toyoshima said his team not only doubled the electric-only driving distance, but they also kicked the speed at which the gas engine comes on up considerably, from 62 to 84 mph. His team sought to balance the battery performance and overall fuel economy.

Turning to the Prime, Toyoshima spelled out the development strategy. With a marketing strategy that emphasizes the differences between the models, the team:

  • Used different headlights
  • Used different taillights
  • Used different touchscreens
  • Made sure the name was part of the differentiation
  • Used solar panels to recharge the battery

Because of the stringent rollover standards in the U.S., rooftop solar charging will be used first in Japan. Plans are to bring solar charging to the U.S. at some point. The automaker believes there will be an overall fuel economy increase of 10 percent – when compared to a vehicle without them — because the solar panels charge the car when it is parked.

Source: Automotive News

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