Toyota’s sneaky little hickey, the Prius, means a lot more to the history of the automobile industry than your regular SUV or Truck. It’s a legend, plain and simple, and can be compared to the hottest sports cars ever in terms of legacy, impact, and respect. While others are busy trying to find the perfect formula for the next big thing, Toyota has been successfully dominating the market with the Prius hybrid – the Japanese wonder. Many world movie stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Orlando Bloom and others choose Toyota Prius.
Prius: The Little Fighter
This is a story about a funny little car that had so much love and effort at the conceiving, that even the biggest players on the market can’t really compete with it so many years later. If you speak of innovation, the Prius is the first thing that’s the closest to that word. With about 20 years of experience, this brand has its rightful place on top of the industry’s food chain. Yep, that’s right. And don’t let that cute appearance fool you – this one is a fighter, an exceptionally good one, as a matter of fact. To make it in this world, you gotta be a lot of things: a warrior, a commander, and a strategist. The Japanese seem to have mastered all of those – in that exact order.
To learn more about pros and cons see this post “5+ Facts About Toyota Hybrids – Pros And Cons”.
The Provenance – The First Steps
The Toyota Prius first saw the light of day back in 1997, and was the result of hard work and effort, that lasted for 5 full years. It was a part of Toyota’s plan to enter the market with a low-emission, highly practical family brand. The Prius was (and still is to this day) the first petrol-electric hybrid car to be produced on a mass scale.
I have to tell you guys that, despite the common opinion, the Japanese are not the pioneers of the hybrid car concept. Vehicles with a combination of good-old gas engines with internal combustion and an electric motor have been around since 1898 (yep, more than 100 years ago). Toyota takes credit as being the first automobile manufacturer to solve endless engineering and technical problems and bring out this magic new tech into the world on the largest scale of production. Among the biggest obstacles in the way were the problems with the battery’s durability.
The Heart Of The Revolution
So, at the core of the brand-new Prius was the revolutionary THD (Toyota Hybrid System), a true work of art that the engineers managed to fit in the standard-sized engine compartment. The system was run by a 4-cyl, 1.5-lit engine working on the Atkinson combustion cycle, which provided the best fuel-efficiency possible. This engine was paired to a small electric motor with good torque and a separate geny. The third, and the final part of this mechanism was a mighty hybrid battery pack, made of metal and nickel – they hid it behind the back seats.
Ahead Of Its Time
A peculiar fact: the principles and the fundamental architecture of the very first generation of Toyota Prius were engineered with so much potential, that Toyota has been using those initial techniques and developments in each and every last hybrid model they manufactured ever since.
Toyota Prius was also the first model to try out the company’s brand-new platform at that time. It soon served as the foundation for upcoming brands, such as Celica, Corolla, RAV4, and the second generation of Prius itself. The Latin word “Prius” can be translated as “The leader, the one that’s upfront”. Well, that description fits the Prius like none other! And you can easily see it in Toyota Prius images.
As for the overall exterior/interior design, the Japanese fit this breakthrough, one of a kind environmental technology into a relatively standard shape (known as the cab-forward shape) and a body structure of high-strength steel. That said, Toyota still wanted to make the Prius exceptional. So, with the bright minds of the company’s own Calty Design establishment in California, they decided to give it a unique size. It was something between a tiny family car and a supermini; plus, they achieved a drag coefficient value of Cd 0.29 (that’s pretty low).
First Big Sales of Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius showed amazing sales figures in hometown (that would be Japan) right from the start. And it also won the Car Of The Year Award in Japan in 1998. By May 2000 Toyota had sold more than 40K units of the vehicle, and, as the new, restyled edition was about to hit the foreign markets (the XW11 chassis), it was decided to increase the production capacity to 3K a month.
The combined power of the Toyota Hybrid System was capable of a driving range of 560 miles. It could go from zero to 62mph in 13.4 seconds, with the maximum speed at 99mph. The fuel-efficiency of the two engines working together was phenomenal – 57.6 mpg (Miles Per Gallon), with the CO2 emissions being as low as 114g/km. Compared to the ten best-selling vehicles at that time, Prius was substantially cleaner and more fuel-efficient than any of them. And not just a little bit; it was way ahead of the competition on the market.
Different Markets, Different Solutions
Despite the big success in Japan, Toyota was kinda concerned with how the rest of the world would welcome the Prius. Among the most “unwelcoming” markets considered was the UK. So, Toyota’s management in Great Britain killed any possible doubts about the battery’s longevity, as well as the whole concept of the hybrid technology by offering a 5-year mechanical warranty (the first one in Europe, by the way).
Furthermore, Toyota committed to taking care of recycling the Prius models at the end of their service, thus taking upon itself any residual spending that could spook the customers. This program was called Prius One. The company was already the leading manufacturer in the world in terms of keeping it clean and environmental-friendly, and, with the Prius One program, they shaped the future of the industry.
And now let’s learn about the adventures of the second generation and its legacy. And finally take a look at the third (the latest to date) gen, that’s doing great on the market right now.
The Second Generation of Toyota Prius Hybrid
Production of the first generation of Prius was stopped in August 2003. Toyota managed to sell more than 123K units of the first gen all around the world. This made the Prius the biggest moneymaker in the hybrids market; moreover, the company proved that family cars can be different – better. So, it was time to move on and get even bigger with the brand.
Constructed on the first generation’s foundation, the second gen Prius was completely redesigned and was the result of Toyota’s continuing efforts in making the best hybrid vehicle on the planet. It was first shown at the 2003 New York International Auto Show, for the 2004 model year. This “younger brother” managed to set new records at both ends of the performance index, as having more power and max speed, being cleaner than ever, and even more fuel-efficient.
The second generation of the Prius tried on the new “Kammback” design with five doors, that was a lot more elegant, modern, and aerodynamic altogether. With this new design, the Prius became bigger and was somewhere between Camry and Corolla in size. Under that slim exterior was a lightweight. But, at the same time, amazingly strong body shell, with a 5-star crash test result (the Euro NCAP) – the best score in the segment.
The Hybrid Synergy Drive
The new Prius also had the more advanced hybrid system, known to us today as the HSD – Hybrid Synergy Drive. The main goal with this new system was to re-set the balance between the electric and gasoline engines. The engineers were able to improve the electric engine’s range and usage. The battery was perfected as well – it had a greater output density while weighting less and having fewer cells. The torque capabilities of the Prius were also outmatching the predecessor – 1,200rpm, as compared to no torque at all in the first generation.
Better In Everything
Toyota’s engineers put in a lot of work into perfecting the fuel efficiency of the second generation. They introduced many innovations, including a brand-new stop-start system, which helped to decrease the emissions, the EV mode, for exclusive use of the electric engine, which could power the Prius for almost 1.25 miles (2+ kilometers), and an electric air conditioning system that was still capable of setting the climate even when the engine was off.
This system was unique – no other brand in the world had it.
The collective result of all these amazing developments was a 15 percent improvement on the fuel-efficiency – 65.7 mpg with the combined force of the gas/electric engines. The acceleration and max speed was also perfected: 0 to 62 mph in less than 11 seconds, and a top speed of 106mph. The CO2 emissions were also reduced – 104g/km.
Better Sales Of The New Toyota Prius
With the HSD system proving to be exceptional, Toyota (obviously) decided to further work on the concept, making it better than it ever was. And, at the end of 2004, the second gen Prius was able to sell more units than its progenitor. 250 thousand vehicles found their happy owners all over the world, and, with the market demanding more, Toyota increased the production capacity of the Prius to 180K units a year.
Toyota exceeded the “500K Units Sold” mark with the Prius by the end of April 2006. Around that same time the brand topped the annual customer satisfaction list at JD Power.com (in France, Germany, and United Kingdom) – that was a huge boost for the hybrids.
Watch this video review about 2004-2009 Toyota Prius:
The Third Generation of Prius
The third (and the latest to date) generation of the triumphant Prius was introduced at the North American Auto Show in January 2009. But that wasn’t the immediate start of a well-deserved vacation for the second generation. It was still in production for the market in China up until late 2011; at that time total sales of the Prius brand had climbed to a very impressive number – 1, 2 million units (1,192,000, to be exact).
At that moment was made this official Toyota Prius 2009 Presentation on video:
With the third “installment” of the Prius family tree, Toyota took the most predictable, and, at the same time, the most effective approach – perfecting the already amazing hybrid technology. Named the most sophisticated mainstream vehicle on the market, the brand-new Prius engaged for improved fuel-efficiency and better performance, as well as further reduced emissions. Furthermore, the third generation set new records for the hybrid brands with a total output of 134HP (+22%, compared to the second gen), better fuel economy – 72.4 mpg (10%), and less CO2 emissions (89g/km, +14%).
New Ways Of Thinking
These impressive results were achieved with somewhat intricate methods: Toyota allied a bigger 1.8-lit Atkinson cycle petrol engine with an HSD system that was a lot smaller and lighter than before. As a matter of fact, 90 percent of the HSD components were brand-new.
The introduction of high-tensile metal allowed to keep the weight low, so, that gave the powertrain more room to spread its wings. Plus, Toyota incorporated 3 driving modes that allowed the person behind the wheel to choose the optimal one for every situation: the EV mode activated only the electric motor, which could give you 31 miles per hour for about 1.2 miles. The “Eco” mode was the most fuel-efficient. The third mode, “Power”, increased throttle inputs by almost 50 percent for better performance.
Breaking The Records
The “wedgy” shape of the Prius became a very big part of Toyota’s revolutionary hybrid. So, that edgy look was retained and further augmented with sharper details of the overall design. In addition, Toyota went with a “less outside, more inside” approach, which allowed them to provide more interior space. Moreover, the new platform had better handling and greater stability.
The third generation of the Prius also had a lot of new innovations and techy features, including an amazing safety system.
With all those achievements, Prius was shortlisted for the World Car Of The Year 2010 award. And also managed to repeat the first gen’s success by winning the 2009 Japan Car Of The Year award.
The collective sales of the Prius brand in September 2010 exceeded 2 million units. It only took the Prius 4 more years to reach an outstanding result of 3, 36 million sales worldwide.
A Happy Family Picture
Later on, Toyota decided to increase the amazing Prius family and added 2 new models. Now, these fellas had more sophisticated lithium-ion battery packs installed. The new Prius Plug-In is chargeable from an external source of power as well as from its hybrid drive system. The powerful battery pack provides a range of 14 miles on the electric motor working solo.
The other sibling, the Prius+ was developed for European couples with kids who wanted more space and flexibility. In this case, the brand-new battery pack delivers the same performance as the standard Prius, but, the + edition is bigger and offers 7 seats.
So, you can see why the anticipation for the 4th generation is so high. We can expect Toyota to further perfect the vehicle’s strong suits, including a more efficient powertrain with better fuel-efficiency, even less emission, and last but not least – a cheaper price tag. The new Prius is also predicted to try out the New Global Architecture that Toyota’s developing for the next generation of all its brands.
Alright, ladies and gentlemen, this is it! The complete overview of Toyota’s sneaky little miracle. With almost 20 years of experience, the Prius brand still has a lot to offer to the future consumers, including innovation, affordability, stability, and, above all, reliability. I bet after this article you won’t look at the Prius the same way you used to.
Watch this video 2015 Toyota Prius – Review & Road Test