LAcarGUY was well represented at the 6th Alt Car Show, which took place at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium on September 30 and October 1, with vehicles from 4 of our dealerships. Inside the display area the new FISKER KARMA was featured and ended up being the hit of the show. Toyota Santa Monica did have the Prius V available for test drives during the well-attended weekend. Also available for test drives were the new CT 200h and the HS250h from Lexus Santa Monica as well as the new redesigned 2012 Passat TDI and the VW Golf TDI from Volkswagen Santa Monica. There was never a lull for test drives throughout the entire two days. Toyota future vehicles were also on display, with the 2012 RAV EV and Prius PHV receiving plenty of attention!
TORRANCE, Calif. — This week marks 10 years since Toyota launched the Prius, its highly popular hybrid vehicle with the gas/electric powertrain. To commemorate the occasion, executives shared a wide array of data connected with this model’s success.
During the past decade, the automaker has moved more than 1.8 million Prius models worldwide, with almost 900,000 of those sales in the U.S. alone.
Toyota calculated the environmental savings Prius owners provided. Based on formulas from the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. consumers who own a Prius have prevented an estimated 9 million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere versus if they operated a conventional vehicle.
Furthermore, the automaker contends Prius owners have conserved approximately 650 million gallons of gas, resulting in a net savings of about $1.5 billion.
Toyota recalled the first Prius came to North America in July of 2000. That year, executives remembered that the toast of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was the Hummer H2, while national gas prices averaged about $1.50 per gallon.
Starting out, the automaker established modest sales goals for the Prius of 12,000 units per year. OEM officials remained steadfast in their defense of the vehicle despite some unflattering early reviews.
“With a real-world 35 mpg, this is a car that neither enthusiasts nor greenies can fully embrace,” Toyota recollected one industry magazine stating.
Toyota also contends competing manufacturers announced that hybrids were “not an economical or practical solution” to America’s future needs. The company believed many OEMs insisted that Toyota had provided the solution to a problem that did not exist.
“Prius owners, however, felt otherwise,” Toyota officials declared. “Widely characterized as extreme environmentalists, early Prius adopters were actually more likely to be tech-savvy professionals.
“Those first owners, well aware of public events and global developments, were conscious of the impact of their own choices,” Toyota management went on to say. “They became articulate advocates for the technology. Soon, demand outstripped supply, and production had to be stepped up as waiting lists became months long.”
As fuel costs spiked, the automaker discovered a clear economic rationale for purchase emerged.
“Driving a Prius delivered a new kind of satisfaction, based on a new set of values,” Toyota officials determined. “It was a car enriched with advanced features, in tune with global issues that assumed greater importance every year. It provided an affordable transportation solution that earlier all-electric cars did not, as it was able to use existing infrastructure without concerns for recharging or range limitations.”
Now, Toyota said the Prius is the third-best selling vehicle in its lineup. The company also asserts owner loyalty figures are among the highest in the automotive industry.
“Toyota recognized in the 1990s that sustainable transportation would become a huge challenge in the coming decades,” said Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales USA.
“Those realizations proved accurate, and if anything, even more profound considering what we know today,” Lentz added.
Refining the Prius
Toyota delved into how the Prius’ technology has improved since its launch.
With the first-generation compact Prius, buyers got 97 combined horsepower and were told to expect 41 mpg. Now a decade later, the midsize Prius has 134 horsepower and delivers an EPA rating of 50 mpg overall.
Compared to the original model, Toyota believes the 2010 Prius is bigger, faster and even cleaner. While the first generation was classified as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV), the automaker noted the current Prius is a SULEV/AT-PZEV, meaning that it meets super-ultra-low-emissions-vehicle requirements, and emits zero emissions at rest.
As the technology improved, Toyota remembered how reviews significantly changed, too. When Motor Trend named the Prius the 2004 Car of the Year, Toyota indicated magazine officials declared they were “thoroughly impressed with the Prius as not only a technological marvel, but as a truly liveable sedan.”
At the same time, Toyota recalled how The Car Connection described the Prius as “nothing less than the world’s most sophisticated powertrain ever delivered to ordinary customers.”
Insights into Prius Development
Toyota shared some of the details of how its company brain trust developed the vehicle.
According to officials, creating the unit that became the Prius was accomplished in a relatively short amount of time through use of computer models to design and prove ideas. By minimizing the use of prototypes, Toyota engineers believe they changed the way vehicles are designed and built.
The automaker indicated many of the components had to be invented from scratch. Those that had already been invented, such as regenerative brakes and electronic power steering, needed to be improved and adapted for mass production. Global standards for electronic components had to be set and new software needed to be written.
Toyota pointed out a total of nine on-board processors were needed to manage the power delivery between engine, battery, brakes and motor/generator. Many motors and batteries were developed, tested, and discarded before they could be proven. Engines had to be converted to run on the more efficient Atkinson Cycle to power a new, unique transaxle.
Furthermore, the manufactured stressed a completely new type of instrumentation had to be developed. With the Prius, Toyota said there was a need to monitor the interplay between the engine and the battery, leading to a display that kept the driver informed of the status on both counts.
The OEM declared the new instrumentation empowered the drivers to improve mileage by altering their technique, turning driving into an interactive game.
“Today, mileage feedback displays are in use on almost every new vehicle on the market,” Toyota interjected.
The automaker went on to note unprecedented quality-control standards had to be instituted. The reason was motors and batteries had to be reliable enough for stationary use also proved vulnerable to heat, cold and vibration. Officials established multimillion-dollar joint ventures in order to assure the G21 Project, as it was called, could one day lead to a mass-produced vehicle.
“These investments were made in an automotive environment that was dominated by sales of trucks and SUVs; in a world that The Economist described as ‘drowning in oil,'” Toyota recalled.
“Through it all, Toyota management remained convinced that their goal of combining fuel efficiency with environmental performance would one day be appreciated,” executives added.
Today, Toyota contends there are nearly 30 hybrid models on the road from 12 brands with more on the drawing boards. The manufacturer indicated many of the patents filed during the development of the original Prius are now licensed to other OEMs that also take advantage of Toyota’s initial R&D investment.
“Nevertheless, one out of every two hybrids on American roads is a Prius, which remains the benchmark to which all hybrid cars are compared,” Toyota emphasized.
Prius of the Future
One significant advancement is the Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
The company indicated a fleet of Prius Plug-In vehicles is now in a global-demonstration program aimed at proving their capabilities and fine-tuning the design to meet customer expectations.
Toyota mentioned that the unit is designed with small Lithium-Ion battery packs that are aimed to help the PHV produce less greenhouse gas emissions than conventional hybrid vehicles. A commercial PHV is scheduled to go on sale in 2012.
Longer term, Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive components and software are intended to provide a direct bridge to clean, efficient drivetrains of the future. And while breakthrough technologies are on the horizon, the automaker believes continuing gains in battery technology and internal combustion engines keep the Prius competitive.
“Even in a world of alternative fuels, electric cars and hydrogen fuel cells, it’s a good bet that Prius cars based on Hybrid Synergy Drive will be around for a long time to come,” Toyota declared.
Prius Timeline with Significant Dates and Milestones
—1990: Meetings begin concept work on Project G21, “a car for the 21st Century” in Toyota City and at the Higashifugi Technical Center. The fuel economy target was 20 kilometers per liter, about 50 percent better than other passenger vehicles of the time.
—January 1994: Project team addresses drivetrain, chassis and packaging decisions. The team was granted the right to develop new parts from scratch “if necessary.”
—July 1994: G21 Project, Phase III begins, accelerating development for production of the Prius parallel to development of Toyota’s experimental hybrid system.
—June 1995: Toyota Hybrid System approved and code-named 890T.
—October 1995: Hybrid concept Prius displayed at Tokyo Motor Show with propulsion system described as Toyota-EMS (Energy Management System).
—December 1996: Anticipating the future EV and hybrid vehicle market, Panasonic EV Energy was established as a joint venture between Matsushita and Toyota.
—December 1997: Gen 1 Prius launched in Japan after a final design period of 17 months. Wins Japan Car of the Year award and Global Climate Protection Award from the U.S. EPA, among other accolades.
—1998: Announced in July that Toyota would export 20,000 units annually to North America and Europe.
—2000: Post-Prius era of automotive history begins. From this time on, the concept of environmental performance begins to take root, and all economy cars would be compared to the Prius.
—2003: Prius sales hit 24,000 units, double the number originally planned.
—2004: Second generation Prius launched, called Car of the Year by Motor Trend.
—2007: Total U.S. Prius sales reach 500,000 units since it first launched in July 2000.
—2008: National average gas prices hit $4.09 per gallon on July 7.
—2009: Third generation Prius launched as 2010 model with larger 1.8-liter engine, 0.25 co-efficient of drag and 51 mpg city.