The Prius is likely to be heavily revitalised in the coming years, as Toyota seeks to refocus the car as a technology leader having set the agenda for hybrid cars with the first-generation model.
Amid the success of the new Camry hybrid (which accounts for around 50 per cent of model sales), not to mention the upcoming Corolla and its improved hybrid powertrain, CarAdvice asked Toyota Australia’s vice president of sales and marketing, Sean Hanley, why consumers would pick a Prius, and what that means for the model’s future.
“When we launched Prius back In October 2001, Prius was very much an early adopter’s car, a pioneer of the tech in Australia,” Hanley told CarAdvice.
“I have been waiting for this chance on hybrid for many years. I saw what hybrid can be in Australian market a long time ago and when I went to Geneva motor show, I was reinforced about the strength of the technology...
"To be honest with you, early adopters took on Prius at the time, the innovators, a very special early adopter market that we asked to try Prius.
"When we launched that car we were only selling under 10 a month, and at the time people were very apprehensive about this technology… and here we are 17 years later we are expanding that [hybrid] model range from that one car then to eight models by 2020.”
Prius (which means ‘to go before’) has been a technology showcase for decades, highlighting the best technology Toyota has to offer before it filters down the range.
That strategy appears to have changed, with the Corolla offering more features and technology, the same hybrid powertrain and the same platform, all likely for a smaller cost.
“I think Prius will still serve as a car for new technology going forward, it will take on a new market position as we launch other cars. It will play a role but different role.”
Hanley said it may be a case of bringing the plug-in hybrid Prius Prime offered in other markets, and emphasised the brand is in a strong position to pick between advancing technologies.
“What we will have from 2020 in the Toyota line up is the availability of four powertrains – one, the standard internal combustion engine. Two, hybrid electric vehicles we have in the range. [Three,] full electric with plugin, and [four] fuel-cell vehicles.
“So the are the four powertrains that I see over the next 10 years," Hanley continued. "Frankly, many people are suggesting which one will it be [to win the alternative powertrain race], well actually it will be depending on the market [so] all of them will play a role.
"And in that regard I think Toyota is very well positioned, in Australia we are really well positioned, so far as we have the ability to pick certain models that are being developed in far more advanced CO2-regulated countries, we have the ability to select from a range of different vehicles.
"Plug-in is not ruled out for Australia in the Toyota brand, and it may well play that role for the Prius.”
Prius could also be an innovator for pure electric power at Toyota, though Hanley said there aren't plans for that in the near future. He did, however, admit hybrid Toyotas now stand for more than just efficiency, with performance shaping as a factor.
“Hybrid tech will progress. There is no reason at all why hybrid can’t become a performance car. If you start thinking about what hybrid can represent in the future, there is no reason why the performance car can’t be hybrid.
“No reason why we cant expand hybrid into the performance area. That may give you some cues for direction [of Prius]. Hybrid will continue to evolve, the tech and the performance at a sportier level will continue to evolve.
“Prius remains as is, for the moment. As it evolves it might take on a new function in our brand, a new direction. Prius means to go forward... We are aware that it needs to continue to fill that role of being an innovator.”