Culture

Toyota Prius, the Homo Habilus of Hybrids, is Getting a Makeover!

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A Honda and a Toyota…but who could tell?

We can blame the successful Toyota Prius for the iconic egg-shape that has taken over the electric/hybrid vehicle category. Most manufacturers have sought to duplicate the success of the Prius by adopting its technology—as well as mimicking its exterior design. So, what did the consumers end up with?  Cars like the Ford C-Max, Ford Focus Electric, Honda Insight Hybrid, and the Nissan Leaf hatchback compact—or a dozen EV jelly beans on wheels that are starting to look like car clones.

Well, Toyota might be serving up a new exterior for the Prius in its quest to freshen its image!

Although the Prius was a smash hit, Toyota lost its reign over the car industry a few years ago. A few too many recalls and boring vehicle line-ups cost the mass-market brand some customers. In an attempt to regain their crown, and curb some of Ford and Tesla’s success with EVs, Toyota is hoping to revamp its line and woo buyers. Toyota announced last week that they plan to shed their “frump” and are adjusting their design trajectory so that adjectives for future vehicles include “sporty” and “fun to drive.” Toyota is currently the top-seller of hybrid vehicles, and many of these design changes will primarily impact their hybrid and EV line up. Mr. Toyota wants to “inject energy into designs and driving characteristics in order to appeal to younger buyers.”

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American sedan on the left, British sport on the right.

So what are the die-hard Prius lovers, EV connoisseurs, and eco-conscious car buyers in for next?

 The next generation Prius will have a smaller motor, lighter chassis and a more energy-packed battery. Toyota is aiming for a 10% or better fuel economy improvement over the current Prius, which gets 50 miles a gallon in combined city and highway driving.  The new Prius also will have a lower center of gravity and better driving dynamics.

Toyota said it is developing a new version of its plug in Prius that will have longer all-electric range and the ability to recharge wirelessly through induction.

Also, the next Prius will probably make its debut in 2015 — so start saving up those dollars!

Now, it’s not Toyota’s fault that everyone copied the Prius. But I do look forward to seeing the next generation of the infamous hybrid. And hopefully other small, hybrid and electric vehicle options that aren’t Prius-knock offs.

When the Chevrolet Volt was released, its design wasn’t a cookie-cutter Prius—it was different. (It was also subsequently aped by the Cadillac ELR). The Tesla Model S was also a far cry from its hybrid ancestor. The Model S was sleek and a full-sized car — not a hatchback!  The Ford Fusion sedan steals more of its design genes from Aston Martin than Toyota. Some stirred up competition among the smaller hybrid/EV car makers will be good. I wish Toyota the best in its endeavor to serve up fresh, fun cars again. Let the design games begin!