As electric vehicles remain out of reach for many, Toyota is doubling down on hybrid vehicles, positioning its new Prius as a mass-market alternative.
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Toyota unveiled hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) models of its iconic Prius at an event in Tokyo on November 16. The latter has a charging port and thus can operate as an EV. But developing new hybrid vehicles at this particular point in automotive history raises questions. As Aurel Niculescu, Editor at Inautonews.com asks, “How does Toyota plan for Prius to survive from now on, when the EV revolution is finally upon us?”
When it first launched in 1997, the Prius was at the forefront of cleantech in the automotive industry, and is credited with kick-starting the hybrid and electric vehicle era. Competitors in the electric space have since outpaced it, but Toyota still sees a place in the market for the hybrid, positioning its fifth-generation Prius as a more affordable option to battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
“We need ecological solutions within the reach of the many,” said Simon Humphries, Senior General Manager of Design at Toyota. “The Prius is a car for the majority. It is a car to be driven by all people, not just a few.” Toyota did not give pricing details for its newest hybrid vehicles, however. The HEV version is scheduled for delivery this winter, and the PHEV will roll out in spring 2023, starting in Japan, North America and Europe.
Toyota has come under criticism from ESG investors and environmental groups for its seeming reluctance to embrace battery electrics and continued reliance on hybrid technology. The Japanese automotive giant defends its position, saying that in addition to being cheaper, the Prius is more practical in markets where infrastructure isn’t ready for a faster move to BEVs, Reuters reports.
Japan’s biggest automaker also insists that it remains committed to carbon neutrality. The company touts its role as a cleantech trailblazer that “opened up a viable alternative to gasoline and diesel”, which Humphries called the Prius’ “greatest achievement” along with selling over 20 million hybrids globally. At the unveiling, Humphries addressed the issue of carbon neutrality directly, saying that achieving it will require everyone’s participation, and the Prius is “an eco-car within everyone’s reach”.