With all the publicity on the Ford C-Max lately, it’s interesting that MotorTrend published an interview with a Toyota engineer discussing the next Prius. The next Prius, specifications for which have just been finalized recently, won’t ship until at least spring 2015. Toyota is developing a new (or at least modified) hybrid drivetrain as patents for the current hybrid technology expire in 2013. (It’s my understanding that Ford claims ownership to the same hybrid technology via their previous ownership of Volvo.) The next Prius will have a lower center-of-gravity, be sleeker with very different style, get about EPA 60 mpg combined, and have a new all-weather traction system called e-4WD. The rear axle motor will be limited to 37 mph after which the Prius will automatically shift to a FWD vehicle. The engineer seemed to admit that the current Prius is dated technology and is no longer appealing like it once did to forward thinkers.
The Toyota engineer said there will be a plug-in version of the Prius (PHEV) released in 2015 with about a 22 mile electric range and a maximum speed of 62 mph in electric only mode. It appears as though Toyota will not be challenging the C-Max Energi and Fusion Energi plug-in hybrids even in 2015. The 85 mph top electric speed of the Energi models appears to be very important to many prospective customers from what I’ve read.
MotorTrend asked readers for their opinion on the importance of three main features in the next Prius. They favored a sleeker design (44%), 60 mpg (34%), followed by e-4WD (23%) as of November 20th.
Chris Hostetter, Toyota’s U.S. group vice president for strategic planning recently stated, “There’s an undercurrent among most people that they’re ready for a new Prius look. Maybe our architecture has been a little bit similar for the last two generations.” This is consistent with the MotorTrend vote that 44% want a new sleeker design. He also said that a new look hasn’t been chosen yet. Hostetter said that a replacement liftback won’t go on sale for “a little more than a year,” a statement that seems to be inconsistent with his comment that a new style has not yet been chosen.