Toyota Australia is sticking firm on its call to not sell the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid (PHEV) in Australia, preferring to focus on the 'regular' Prius and Corolla hybrids with comparatively old-hat but more affordable technology.
As such, it's allowing fellow mass-market brands Mitsubishi and Hyundai to establish an early ascendancy in a fledgling market with the well-established Outlander PHEV crossover and the imminent Ioniq PHEV model, respectively.
Why this call? In a word, 'convenience'. Buyers just don't want to plug their vehicles in yet, Australia's market leader thinks, and so the normal hybrid Prius where the batteries merely supplement the engine and can't be charged externally becomes the go.
We spoke with TMC Australia’s vice-president of national operations, Sean Hanley, this week at the launch of the new-generation Camry.
“It was always our dream when we put Prius into market that when people think of alternate powertrains… they'll think Toyota. They've been in market continuously for longest,” he said.
“[But] to us right now, it’s a hybrid environment. You never rule out PHEV but frankly speaking I think Australians still want convenience and that’s hybrid right now.”
We've repeatedly said this corporate stand seems odd since the whole point of the Prius is to move boundaries, and the regular ‘normal’ hybrid tech in our model seems a little mainstream these days.
Described by the brand as the “most technologically advanced, best-equipped Prius in the model’s history”, the plug-in hybrid Prius model would also be a cheap rival here to the BMW 330e and Audi A3 e-tron.
For those not in the know, PHEVs combine an electric motor and battery cells that can be recharged from a power point or fast charger like an EV, but also have a combustion engine to generate power and effectively drive the car should the cells go 'flat'. This nullifies the dreaded 'range anxiety'.
The Prius Prime is capable of consuming 2.0 litres per 100 kilometres – thanks to the bigger capacity 8.8kWh lithium battery bank and improvements to the actual hybrid drivetrain. The electric range is 35km, and Toyota claims that it can be driven in EV mode at up to 135km/h.
Charging is said to take 5.5 hours from empty, using a US outlet, or half that with a 240-volt point. Toyota claims the total driving range of the Prius Prime is more than 600 miles (965km) with a full battery and full tank of petrol (43L).
Further, the company says the new model will not change to hybrid mode when EV mode is selected, even “if you floor it”. In Hybrid mode, the Prius Prime can run on the gasoline engine or electric motor alone or a combination of both.
Inside the Prius Prime takes another step up from the regular model, too, with the centrepiece being a new 11.6-inch tablet-style media system with satellite navigation and pinch/swipe gestures, and a full colour head-up display.
Meantime, Hanley did promise that Toyota would lob three new conventional hybrid offerings by 2020, taking its total to eight. The current range comprises the Camry and Corolla, plus the Prius, and Prius C and Prius V spinoffs.