The Toyota Prius was a revolutionary breakthrough when it debuted two decades ago, the world’s first gas-electric hybrid becoming at one point the best-selling car of any type in the huge California market.
But the past few years have been tough for the Prius, with buyers largely avoiding the fourth-generation sedan introduced in 2016.
So there’s going to be plenty to roll on the all-new 2023 Prius which will debut at the Los Angeles Auto Show next week. Toyota doesn’t talk much about the fifth-generation hybrid, but it took to Instagram to give some hints as to what’s to come
Social media posts tout the 2023 Toyota Prius as a “Hybrid Reborn,” while confirming that it will debut November 16 in Los Angeles. While it doesn’t look like the Prius is getting a drastic makeover – it won’t suddenly reappear as an SUV – the Japanese automaker seems to be moving away from the cartoonish design cues that made the outgoing hybrid so controversial.
Highs and lows
The Toyota Prius debuted in Japan in December 1997 as a gasoline-electric sedan. It came to the United States four years later and in 2003 it migrated to the hatchback body style we have known ever since.
The Prius quickly became the darling of environmentally conscious buyers – the California Air Resources Board and the US EPA declaring it one of the cleanest vehicles ever on the road. At one point, it became the best-selling nameplate in California, helped not only by its high mileage, but also by the fact that drivers could access coveted lanes for high-occupancy vehicles in the state.
But the fourth-generation sedan unexpectedly lost its momentum. It didn’t help that California ended the HOV lane access program. But critics blasted the new model for its over-the-top design that some saw almost as a self-caricature. US demand peaked in 2012 at just over 147,000 units – a figure that included two other Prius-badged models. The Prius C and V have been discontinued and the original sedan only generated 59,000 sales last year. For the first 10 months of the year, the total is still down 40%.
An uncertain future
As several Toyota officials said on the merits in interviews with TheDetroitBureau.com shortly before the pandemic hit, the automaker gave serious thought to whether the Prius would still be needed. After all, the automaker now offers hybrid versions of virtually everything it produces, right down to its big Tundra pickup.
But the conclusion was that the Prius “has to keep a role, and we have to make sure it’s always at the forefront with this kind of technology. Although I can’t divulge much, we don’t want to spoil our icon, even for the future,” a company official told Britain’s Autocar last year.
Next week’s debut will reveal exactly what Toyota has been doing in an effort to rebuild at least some demand for its pioneering hybrid.
Major changes could be coming
What it won’t do is migrate to a radically different body style, as the teaser silhouette clearly shows. It appears to retain a liftback design, although it looks more coupe-like than the existing model. And there seem to be fewer fancy design elements first introduced in 2016, the close-up teaser suggests.
According to a few people who’ve actually seen a prototype, the 2023 Toyota Prius will take a slightly more aggressive stance, perhaps influenced by the design of the new Crown sedan – which is sold only in hybrid form. That could mean a higher ride height, though designers probably won’t go that far to avoid sacrificing mileage by compromising on aerodynamics.
Toyota has clearly hinted at what it calls “a new direction”, something that could refer to the underpinnings of the hybrid. There has been speculation in Japan that the 2023 remake will migrate to an all-new platform, dubbed E3. It would blend features from the eTNGA architecture used for Toyota’s bZ4X battery electric vehicle as well as the Corolla’s GA-C platform.
To the extremes
Among the most extreme rumors, Toyota could introduce a fuel cell hybrid version of the next Prius. The automaker is a strong supporter of fuel cell technology and sees it as an essential part of its future zero-emission lineup. But an FCV Prius is unlikely to be shown first at launch.
How far Toyota plans to go, we’ll find out next week.
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