Toyota announces Prius III

Energy Matters0

In North American the Prius is claimed to have an average consumption of 50mpg, which should equate to about 4.0L/100km in Australia – a 10 per cent reduction compared with the old model. However, the final windscreen rating label figure in Australia could vary from this because of different Government test requirements in both countries.

Technology highlights include solar panels in the sunroof designed to assist the car’s air-conditioning system, as well as radar cruise control and a pre-crash safety system that, until now, have in Toyota world been exclusive to Lexus.

Pricing of the Prius in Australia is yet to be announced, but is expected to be similar to the current models which start at $37,000 and stretch to $47,000. However, the new Prius range is likely to expand from two to three models so there is no longer a $10,000 price gap.

Toyota wants the new model to appeal more to private buyers. Currently, fleet customers account for three out of every four Prius sales. The aim is to have an even split between private and business customers.

“While we already have a lot of demand from corporate customers for the new Prius, our main focus is on private buyers, especially in the initial stages while supply is relatively tight,” says Toyota Australia’s hybrid car expert, Vic Johnstone.

The new Prius will continue to be made in Japan, as with the previous two models. But it was also going to be made in a second factory in North America – Toyota’s biggest market for the Prius – until the global credit crunch derailed those plans.

The problem now is that Toyota is forecasting greater demand for the Prius worldwide given the expected rise in petrol prices, but production at the Japanese factory will only be increased by a modest amount. Had the Mississippi factory gone ahead, Prius production could have doubled.

With only one Prius factory, initial supply of the new model will likely be restricted, and we could see a repeat of the six- to eight-month delays that affected the previous model when it was introduced five years ago.

“We are doing everything we can to make sure the waiting list is not too long,” says Toyota Australia’s product planning boss, Peter Evans. “However, we won’t know until closer to the on-sale date what the demand for the new car is like around the world. If another country reduces their Prius order, then hopefully we can get more cars.”

Standard equipment for the new model is yet to be finalised but it is expected all Prius models will come standard with front, side and head-protecting ‘curtain’ airbags (previously, only the dearest model has curtain airbags) and stability control, which can help prevent a skid in a corner.

Other features, such as the solar panel sunroof, high intensity headlights, a digital heads-up display in the windscreen, radar cruise control and automatic parking technology (not to mention leather upholstery and a premium sound system) will likely be used to help distinguish models at three different price points.

The new Prius slips more efficiently through the air than the previous model; Toyota claims it has the lowest co-efficient of drag (a figure of 0.25cd, for the tech heads) than any mass-production car. Creating less wind turbulence at freeway speeds helps reduce fuel consumption.

This improvement is despite the fact that the new Prius is slightly longer and wider than before, and therefore has a much roomier interior and a bigger cargo space.

To offset the weight of some of the new technology that has been added, the new Prius has a lightweight aluminium bonnet and tailgate.

The new car has more than 1000 patents covering its innovations. Twenty years ago, it was considered extravagant when the first ever Lexus had 400 patents on it.

As with the previous Prius there is still a petrol engine under the bonnet, and the car is refueled just like a normal car on regular unleaded. But a plug-in version which can be recharged overnight is due within the next three years.

Somewhat bizarrely, the new Prius has a bigger petrol engine than its predecessor (up from a 1.5-litre four-cylinder to a 1.8, the same size as the engine in a Corolla) but it also has a bigger electric motor and a more efficient battery pack.

The torque, or pulling power, at low revs has deliberately been reduced to make the Prius accelerate more smoothly off the line. But engineers have increased the amount of torque mid-way through the rev range to better suit real-world driving conditions.

The result is a one second reduction in the claimed 0 to 100km/h acceleration time, from 10.9 seconds to 9.9, about as ‘quick’ as a Camry.

More than 12,000 Prius hybrids have been sold in Australia since the original model went on sale in 2001, four years after it went on sale internationally.

Around the world, among its fans the Prius has found favour with taxi drivers, with the tear-drop shaped hatchback used as a cab from New York to New South Wales – and even remote towns such as Cairns.

Over the past few years, 32 Prius taxis have clocked up an average of 200,000km annually, with one recording the highest distance so far of 550,000km. That vehicle had its battery pack replaced at 500,000km, while another had its battery replaced at 350,000km. Toyota Australia says these are the only two battery packs it is aware of that have been replaced in eight years of local Prius sales.

The company says about 85 per cent of the expired battery packs are recycled, and most of the process and components are handled locally.

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