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Toyota celebrates 10 years of Prius

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Toyota celebrates 10 years of Prius

By Mark Kleis

When the Toyota Prius first entered the automotive realm in 2000, the now-popular hybrid was hugely overshadowed by gas guzzlers like the then-new Hummer H2, thanks in part to cheap gas ($1.50 average) nationwide.

At its introduction, Toyota set a very modest goal of selling just 1,000 units per month nationwide in the U.S., realizing that a somewhat premium priced eco-friendly car was slightly ahead of its time. At the time, they were right and sales were fairly low at launch.

However, if you average out the total Prius sales from its July 2000 launch until now, you will get an average of 6,250 units sold each month. So far in 2010, Toyota is averaging 11,000 Prius sales each month in the U.S. alone. To get an even better understanding of where the Prius was compared to where it is today, one should know that the Prius only reached 500,000 cumulative U.S. sales in 2007 – meaning that 400,000 more have been sold in just the last three years alone.

Why Toyota developed the Prius…when Toyota developed the Prius

The automotive industry rarely takes chances to develop vehicles years ahead of when the market is expected to be capable of supporting them, typically because they simply cannot afford to research and develop vehicles that cannot produce a profit through economies of scale in the near-term. With the Prius, Toyota hedged a significant bet on an eventual change that would result in them being better positioned than their competitors – a bet that paid off in spades.

“Toyota recognized in the 1990s that sustainable transportation would become a huge challenge in the coming decades,” said Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. “Those realizations proved accurate, and if anything, even more profound considering what we know today.”

Prius Timeline: Significant Dates and Milestones

1990: Meetings begin concept work on Project G21, “a car for the 21st Century”, in Toyota City and Higashifugi Technical Center. Fuel economy target was 20 kilometers per liter, about 50% better than other passenger cars of the time.

1994 (January): Project team addresses drivetrain, chassis and packaging decisions. The team was granted the right to develop new parts from scratch “if necessary.”

1994 (July): G21 Project, Phase III begins, accelerating development for production of the Prius parallel to development of Toyota’s experimental hybrid system.

1995 (June): Toyota Hybrid System approved and code-named 890T.

1995 (October): Hybrid concept Prius displayed at Tokyo Motor Show with propulsion system described as Toyota-EMS (“Energy Management System”).

1996 (December): Anticipating the future EV and hybrid vehicle market, Panasonic EV Energy was established as a joint venture between Matsu$h!a and Toyota.

1997 (December): 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 Magazine.

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 coefficient of drag and 51 mpg City.

What does the future hold for the Prius?

Well, for one, it is a safe bet to assume that continually rising gas prices will keep the Prius in high demand, but Toyota isn’t resting on its laurels and banking on nothing more than high gas prices to sell its halo car.

Toyota reminds us that the next step in the ever-evolving development of the Prius is already here…kind of, and is known as the Prius Plug-in Hybrid (PHV). The PHV is currently being tested in special fleets worldwide, with the on-sale date coming in 2012.

Beyond that even, Toyota has hinted that upgraded Hybrid Synergy Drive components can always be expected, and someday, alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen may also find their way into the “Prius equation.”



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