AUTOS:Toyota unveils a Prius that moves beyond 50 mpg with a sleeker design

Published: Thursday, September 10, 2015

In Japan in 1997, Toyota, at the time a medium-sized force in a U.S. car
market still dominated by Detroit's Big Three, launched the
first-generation Prius. It was the first mass-produced hybrid and a seminal
blueprint to a new type of car.

On Tuesday evening in Las Vegas, Toyota unveiled the latest iteration of
the car that helped move a middle-of-the-pack automaker in the United
States toward an automotive hegemony worldwide: the fourth-generation 2016
Prius, which will hit showrooms next year.

"For almost two decades, we've been selling Prius. We've changed the
industry with this car, and each generation we've made a little bit better
and a little bit better," Bill Fay, group vice president and general
manager of one of Toyota Motor Corp.'s U.S. divisions, said to a Las Vegas
crowd Tuesday night.
[image: New Prius]

Toyota introduces the fourth-generation Prius. Photo courtesy of Toyota.

The 2016 model is not simply an updated version, but a new car housed
within new bodywork and built on a new suspension and platform, among other
changes. The front, not unlike the high cheekbones of a runway model, is
more angular than the third-generation and the hatch and rear setup are
boxier than before.

The new car will average 10 percent better performance in combined fuel
economy than the third-generation vehicles, which average about 50 mpg,
Toyota said. It will also be the first vehicle to be produced worldwide
through the Toyota New Global Architecture system, a method designed to
save money on common car parts across the company's fleet.

John O'Dell, senior editor for alternative vehicles at Edmunds.com, who was
at the Las Vegas rollout, said Toyota officials confirmed the 10 percent
mpg improvement.

"I think they'll do better than that," he said while driving back from the
announcement. "I think they're under-promising."
Searching for a broader market

Gasoline-and-electric hybrids are mainstream now, O'Dell said, noting that
fears years ago -- such as the concern that drivers would have to spend
thousands of dollars to replace expensive batteries -- have faded away.

"A hybrid is a known commodity now," he said. "There's nothing scary, odd
or unusual about hybrids."

With this sleeker Prius, he said, Toyota is trying to tap into a new pool
of customers. "It's not a compliance car," he said, using the term for cars
manufactured solely to meet environmental regulations. "It's now a car for
everyone." O'Dell added: "It's going to be sold everywhere, and I think
[Toyota will] push hard everywhere."

Longer and wider than its predecessors, the fourth-generation model is
about an inch lower, too. The car's "lower center of gravity and a more
responsive suspension," Toyota said, will "dial up the driving excitement"
without "sacrificing ride quality and occupant comfort."

Critiques of the Prius line have long hinged upon the notion that drivers
forfeit looks, responsiveness, handling and overall performance for
eco-friendly fuel economy. Toyota is clearly aware of that criticism.
A 'no-compromise vehicle'

After the newly revealed model landed on the stage Tuesday -- it had been
suspended by cables many feet above in a quick-but-glitzy announcement -- a
voice came over the speakers.

"A striking new look, smarter technology and unrivaled fuel economy, all in
a package that's more fun to drive than ever," the voice said. "It will
challenge everything you know about hybrids." Fay added: "It's really a
no-compromise vehicle."

Despite a market in which consumers are flocking to light trucks and
heavier cars, due to lower gas prices and flagging demand for fuel-saving
motor vehicles, O'Dell predicted the car will likely silence naysayers (
*ClimateWire* <http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/stories/1060024321/>,
Sept. 8).

"It's always been a knock on the Prius that it's pretty numb," he said.
"This should end those criticisms."

Toyota, the second-largest automaker globally (behind Volkswagen AG and
ahead of General Motors Co.) and the third-largest nationally (behind GM
and Ford Motor Co.), is billing the new Prius as a partner for its
fuel-cell car, the Mirai.

In a statement yesterday, the company said the car "stands side by side
with its sibling, the hydrogen powered Mirai, poised to change the game yet
again." On sale in Japan, the Mirai is scheduled to be unveiled in
California this year.
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