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Toyota set for hybrid explosion

Another one: The Toyota Camry hybrid is one of eight hybrids rolling off the Toyota drawing board.

New Prius to lead a wave of eight new Toyota hybrid models in the next four years

7 Jul 2009

TOYOTA has promised to release at least eight new hybrid models in Australia over the next four years, starting with the all-new Prius.

The commitment – made at this week’s media launch of the third-generation Prius in Sydney – includes next year’s Australian-made Camry Hybrid and eventual replacements for the current-generation GS450h and LS600hL sedans.

Beyond that, Toyota refuses to divulge which petrol-electric models it plans to introduce here by mid-2013. However, we understand they could include anything from hybrid versions of the Corolla and RAV4 to, perhaps, a hybrid version of Lexus’ new entry-level model and even a home-grown Kluger Hybrid.

Toyota Australia executive director sales and marketing David Buttner said it was safe to assume Toyota would replace the Lexus GS and LS hybrids, just as it had done a couple of weeks ago with the RX, “although I’m not including that recent launch as part of the eight”.

“At least half of the eight vehicles will be new hybrids,” he said. “Some will be hybrid versions of existing vehicles others will be new models entirely.

 center image Left: Lexus LS600hL. Below Lexus GS450h.

“That’s about as much as we’re prepared to say. No specific timings no specific hints about what’s coming – just an assurance that Toyota’s commitment to hybrid is absolute – and that future definitely includes Australia.”

Apart from confirming Australia is now firmly locked in to Toyota Motor Corporation’s headlong drive towards hybrid motoring, TMCA used the Prius launch, a guest at which was environmentalist and global warming activist professor Tim Flannery, to highlight the advantages of its Hybrid Synergy Drive umbrella brand.

Toyota last year committed to producing a hybrid version of every model in its range by 2020, including its full-size LandCruiser and Prado SUVs.

An all-new replacement for the latter will emerge at the Tokyo motor show in October in both three-door and five-door wagon body styles, which could spell the availability of a (petrol-only) short-wheelbase Prado model in Australia for the first time.

Mr Buttner said Toyota would produce its two-millionth hybrid vehicle globally this year – 70 per cent of which are Prius, which emerged at the 1995 Tokyo motor show.

He said Toyota would start leasing a plug-in version of the Prius with a lithium-ion battery in Japan, Europe and the US this year.

“I was extremely encouraged to see the recent statement by TMC vice-chairman Watanabe that the global financial crisis would not deflect Toyota from its hybrid plans,” he said.

“In fact, he said Toyota will accelerate the commercialisation of next-generation environment, energy and safety technologies. And he specifically included in that list hybrids, plug-in hybrids, next-generation batteries, bio-fuels and fuel-cell vehicles.”

Released this week, the third-generation Prius is expected to attract a much broader, as well as wealthier, customer demographic than its two predecessors.

Some 4500 buyers are expected to come forward in its first full year on sale – a 30 per cent increase on its best-ever result of 3400 cars in 2008, despite $2500 and $6600 price increases for the entry-level Prius ($39,900) and the flagship i-Tech version ($53,500) respectively.

Mr Buttner used the occasion to reiterate Toyota’s belief that the Prius’ full series-parallel hybrid drive system was “superior to mild hybrids and offers benefits over alternatives such as diesel” because it could operate on engine or battery power alone, or a combination of both, and could charge its battery while running.

“That’s our unique selling proposition,” he said. “Hybrid Synergy Drive is not an interim technology. It is a core technology that will become dominant in the car market.

“It is rapidly growing in acceptance and its future is assured – to the point that it will evolve to form the basis of the ultimate eco car. That’s because Hybrid Synergy Drive offers the flexibility of combining an electric motor with power sources other than petrol.

“Hybrid technology can help maximise the merits of all energy sources, whether they are conventional fuels such as petrol and diesel or any of the alternatives – biofuels, diesel, synthetic fuels, compressed natural gas, hydrogen, virtually anything.”

Prius chief engineer Akihiko Otsuka said Toyota was committed to petrol-electric hybrid drive technology, but ruled out the likelihood of a diesel hybrid system, such as those being developed by European car-makers, from Toyota any time soon.

“Hybrid technology can fit any power source,” he said. “But the (production) cost of diesel (engines) is more than petrol, and NOx (oxides of nitrogen) and HC (hydrocarbon) is still much better in petrol.

“These are the two main reasons we didn’t want to make diesel hybrid – cost for the customer and emissions are worse. For the foreseeable future we will not make a diesel hybrid,” said Mr Otsuka, who added that a mild-hybrid Prius would have been a backward step.

“I could have made the new Prius a mild hybrid to reduce development costs and the price for consumers. But that would have been a step backwards and a great disappointment to our customers because Prius has been a full hybrid since the beginning.”

Mr Buttner said Toyota would be ready when its battery partners, led by Panasonic, developed improved battery technology – a fact that he said was often overlooked.

The Prius employs nickel-metal hydride batteries, which are heavier and less efficient than the lithium ion units used by Kia and Hyundai in their LPG hybrids, and to appear in GM’s 2012 Chev/Holden Volt plug-in hybrid.

“Of course, if, for some reason, battery advances are not as rapid as hoped, and if performance and cost targets are not met, then Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system is still viable and available, just as it has been for the past decade,” he said.

Next cab off Toyota’s hybrid rank, in November, will be an upgraded version of the flagship hybrid limousine from the luxury division of the world’s largest car-maker, the LS600hL, which will follow the facelifted LS460 sedan’s release in September.

Not expected to appear until 2013, a replacement for the current LS600hL is likely to be the last of eight new hybrids to come from Toyota in the next four years. Before then, a redesigned version of the Lexus GS large sedan is due to emerge by 2011 and, with it, a replacement for the petrol-electric GS450h.

Australia’s first locally-built petrol-electric vehicle, the Camry Hybrid, then enters production in December before going on sale in February next year. Toyota Australia plans to build 10,000 Camry Hybrids a year from 2010.

As previously reported, the electrically-assisted Camry is expected to command a circa-$3000 price premium over the mid-size sedan upon which it is based, which will receive a midlife makeover in August and is priced from $28,490.

“Camry price positioning is very important,” said Mr Buttner. “The intention is to have some differential with Prius. There will be incremental dollars over Camry, but it will be reasonable.”

Just as private buyers are expected to comprise a much higher 43 per cent of new Prius sales (up from 23 per cent), 28 per cent of Camry Hybrid sales are expected to go to private purchasers – up from 25 per cent for the regular Camry.

“Prius is not about volume, but the Camry Hybrid is,” Toyota’s corporate manager of product planning Peter Evans told GoAuto. “Camry Hybrid will not be for early adopters but the early majority. Frankly, we hope we can infiltrate government fleets with Camry Hyrbid.”

Toyota remains tight-lipped beyond the new Prius, Camry, GS and LS hybrids, but we understand that of the remaining four hybrids to emerge, two will be hybrid versions of existing models – which should be positioned either side of the Prius in size – while the final two fuel-efficient models will be all-new.

Given the new Prius is based on the same basic chassis architecture as the Corolla and RAV4, it makes obvious sense for Australia’s top-selling small-car and, until recently, Australia’s top-selling compact SUV to be the next recipient’s of the Prius’ 90 per cent new hybrid drive system, which includes an Atkinson Cycle version of the Corolla’s 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engine.

The final two additional hybrid models remain the subject of speculation.

Toyota Australia’s stated long-term goal is to add a third model line alongside production of the Camry and Aurion at Altona. Based on the same modular platform as both models, the mid-size Kluger SUV is its best chance of achieving that.

Production of the current model’s replacement, due in 2011, is yet to be confirmed for Japan, which manufactures Australia’s version. But Australian production of the MkIII Kluger, let alone a hybrid version of it, appears to be far from a foregone conclusion, despite the fact a Kluger Hybrid is already available in the US.

Toyota admits that, at least hypothetically, Australian production of its petrol-electric V6 drivetrain, which also powers the new Lexus RX450h, gives Altona the technical ability to produce a hybrid version of the Aurion.

“Kluger Hybrid would make a lot of sense and it’s technically possible, but if you had the (V6) hybrid driveline you could also build a hybrid Aurion,” said Mr Evans.

The chances of the US market’s new Lexus HS250h hybrid sedan being sold in Australia have all but been ruled out on the basis that it would cannibalise sales of the brand’s volume-selling IS range, but a hybrid version of Lexus’ all-new yet-to-be-revealed entry-level model, codename C-Premium, is likely to be in the offing.

Mr Evans said the 3+1-seater iQ city-car, which is priced above the Yaris in Europe, is an unlikely starter for Australia because of its size and price. But he confirmed Toyota Australia remained keen on the Urban Cruiser crossover, which is two years away from a midlife facelift and would slot into the range as a sub-RAV4 mini-SUV that could eventually also come with hybrid power.

Mr Otsuka suggested the Prius might not always be the most affordable global hybrid model from Toyota.

“We try to expand the hybrid models,” he said. “Prius is still the entry hybrid model, but I’m sure that in the future we will produce more.”

Mr Buttner said he was unable to say when Toyota would make a return on its investment in hybrid technology.

“The full recouping of our investment will be determined by sales volume as suppliers ramp up production,” he said. “It’s all driven by the volume. I can’t put a specific threshold on that.”
What’s coming from Toyota:
MkIII Prius July
Camry facelift August
Aurion facelift August
70 Series upgrade September
Lexus LS460 upgrade September
Lexus LS600hL upgrade November
Prado redesign November
Camry Hybrid February 2010
Lexus GS/450h redesign 2011
Lexus LS/600hL redesign 2013
Kluger/hybrid redesign 2013
Corolla hybrid TBC
RAV4 hybrid TBC
New Lexus hybrid TBC

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