The Toyota Motor Company is coming off of a tough period where the quality of its cars have been questioned and as customers consider competing models. For the first time Toyota’s supposed invincibility has been challenged and the automaker is now finding that its once smooth road has been littered with quality potholes.
But, Toyota is working diligently to take care of its own problems and is moving forward in its quest to elevate its Prius hybrid model. The Toyota Prius has been around for more than a decade, the benchmark model by which all other hybrids are patterned. Toyota cannot afford to rest on its laurels, however, as Ford, Hyundai, Kia and others have brought their own hybrid models to the market. Plug-in hybrids are here as well and include the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt. Suddenly, Toyota is in danger of being bypassed by the competition.
The Prius line is, however, the most popular hybrid on the market. Sales in 2010 were down in this segment, but that is considered to be only a temporary glitch. Gas prices have moved north of $3 per gallon which means car buyers are exploring their options including finding cars getting exceptional fuel mileage.
Toyota’s plans for Prius are unfolding, with the automaker using the 2011 North American International Auto Show in Detroit to explain where the brand is headed. Between show releases and company chatter, we can expect the Prius line to look far different over the coming years as that model is expanded:
Plug-In Prius – Like other automakers, a plug-in version of the Prius is on its way. This model will use a lithium-ion battery pack and be rechargeable. Having plug-in capacity will enable the Prius to go much farther on electricity only, with a gas engine kicking in when the battery has been depleted.
New Models – The Prius v is the first new model for the Prius family. This wagon-like vehicle is a crossover. The cabin is larger, which means back seat passengers will get more room. Storage has been increased, by 50 percent according to Toyota. The “v” will debut as a 2012 model and will ride on the same platform powering other Priuses.
Concept Prius – Although not green-lighted for production, the Prius C concept shows that Toyota is serious about building an entire line of Priuses. This model, a 2011 NAIAS debut candidate, maintains the five-door versatility of the original Prius, but has a sportier visage and is being targeted to compete against the cheaper Honda Insight.
Rare Earth – Toyota, like other hybrid builders, relies on rare earth materials such a lanthanum to power its Prius. That may change as the automaker is looking at using an induction system for its hybrid models, avoiding usage of materials which are expensive and 90 percent controlled by the communist Chinese government.
Expect Toyota to roll out additional Prius models as the sub-brand continues to grow. A coupe is possible as is an even smaller Yaris-size model. Don’t expect Prius to become its own brand, but it will be an important sub-brand and could prove to be the model line credited with rescuing Toyota.