electric ev prototype
Toyota’s president Akio Toyoda has said the company is looking more and more to eco cars and new markets in the future.Toyota is regarded as the leader in hybrid technology. It has a number of key patents and is already into the second generation of hybrid vehicles. Many other companies use Toyota technology. Toyota supplies Daimler, Nissan, Ford and Mazda with key components for hybrid vehicles such as motors and control computers.

Toyota is developing or is already selling electric cars, hybrid cars that use both gasoline and electric batteries, gasoline-powered cars that produce virtually no pollution and vehicles that run on natural gas.

Hybrid cars are cars that have two power systems: an electric motor powered by a nickel-metal hydride batteries and a highly efficiency gas engines. Electricity is generated by the car so there is no need to plug it in. Hybrids are viewed as bridges until technologies of the future are ready.

Hybrid cars use electricity for starting up, idling and driving slowly. The gasoline engine kicks in when more power is needed. At high speed gasoline is the primary power source, with electricity providing a boost. Computers regulate the two power systems. During coasting or braking, the wheels drive the electric motor, which recharges its batteries. When the car idles, the engine cuts off, saving gas and reducing emissions.

Hybrids get about 10 to 30 percent of their power from the electricity. The remainder comes from gasoline. In this respect there are just improved regular vehicles. They routinely get 60 miles per gallon and can travel 600 miles on a single tank of gasoline.

Hybrids are currently selling better than alternative fuel vehicles in part because they run on readily-available gasoline; securing fuel for the alternative fuel vehicles is more problematic. Toyota and Honda use nickel-hydrogen batteries in their hybrids. Nissan uses lithium-ion ones which have a larger capacity and can be recharged more frequently. .

In September 2010, Toyota said that it would enter the minicar market and produce cars with engines smaller than 660 cc with its subsidiary Daihatsu. Toyota is doing this in part because it sees more of a future in the growing mini-car market than the shrinking regular automobile market.

Toyota Hybrid Cars

Toyota hybrid drive train
Toyota is regarded as the leader in hybrid technology. It has a number of key patents and is already into the second generation of hybrid vehicles. Many other companies use Toyota technology.

Toyota hybrid sales topped the 1 million mark in the United States in March 2009. Toyota sold 140,000 hybrids worldwide between 1997 and 2003. It sold over 300,000 hybrids in 2006. At total of 241, 405 were sold in 2008 during the global recession. Toyota hopes to sell 1 million a year worldwide by 2010.

Toyota is a leader in plug-in hybrids — hybrids that can be plugged into a normal wall socket. The extra electricity allows the car to rely more on electric power and use less gasoline especially on short trips and running errands near the home. A plug-in hybrid with a lithium-ion battery is planned to be introduced in 2009. Toyota is experimenting with a plug-in Prius that can be turned around and used as generator to power a house in the event the electricity goes out. It can provide electric energy equivalent to gasoline at the price of $1 per gallon.

Toyota is experimenting with solar powered electricity generating system with the goal of producing cars that don’t need outside energy sources. It is also investing heavily in next-generation batteries that will far outperform lithium-ion batteries currently used in hybrids on the market.

Toyota has sad that it will begin leasing plug-in hybrids by the end of 2009 in Japan, Europe and the United States. These vehicles have lithium ion batteries rather than the nickel-metal hydrid batteries used on the Priuses.


The Toyota Prius is a five-seat, gas-electric hybrid. It has a base price of $23,000and gets 30 percent of is power from electricity and gets 60 miles per gallon in the city and 45 on the highway. In 2008, it was was named the most fuel efficient car for the third consecutive year, getting 35.5kilometers per liter. Prius is Latin for "to go before."

The Prius was introduced in Japan in 1998 and launched in the United States in 2000. The first 12,000 Priuses were put on the market quickly sold out but sales stalled after that. The car was launched at a time when gas was cheap and SUVs were popular and didn’t really take off until 2003, when a redesigned Prius was launched.

The sale of Prius rose from 18,000 in 1998 to 100,000 in 2002 to 312,000 in 2006. In 2006, it accounted for 40 percent of hybrid sales in the United States. The one million mark was surpassed in May 2007. At that time 1.047 million Priuses’s had been sold, with 345,000 sold in Japan and 702,000 sold overseas. Grants of $3,500 was given to early Prius buyers in the United States.

The Prius is popular with car critics in the United States. In 2004 the Prius was selected as the North American Car of the Year at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The following year celebrities were shown arriving in Priuses at the Academy Awards. Among those who drive the car are Leonard DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz, Paul Newman, Natalie Portman, Merlyn Streep, Ted Danson, the founders of Google and Republican country sheriffs who want to reduce America’s dependence on Middle Eastern oil.

Jerry Garret wrote in the New York Times, “Not only did the Prius help to prove that hybrid gas-electric powertrains can be feasible reliable and desirable, the car has become the object of cultlike affection and a social statement.” Toyota says that 80 percent of Prius owners would buy another.

The success of Prius has been attribute to experience in the market and improvements made from by buyer feed back Toyota’s Jim Press told Newsweek, “Ten years go people tried the Prius because it was a Toyota. Today, people are buying Toyotas because we have the Prius.”

Still, the Prius doesn’t make money for Toyota because it’s complicated and costly propulsion system. It costs about $2,000 or $3,000 more than comparable regular models The maintenance costs for the Prius are high and resale value is low. The cost of replacing power pack is $3,400 compared to $1,900 for a new engine in a conventional car.

Until 2004 the Prius was built only in Japan. Toyota is now making hybrid SUVs and Priuses at its Texas plant and in China.

New Prius

2010 Prius
The new 2010 Prius was introduced in the spring of 2009. Slightly bigger and slightly faster than previous models, it gets 50 miles per gallon (21 kilometers per liter), with 51 mpg in the city and 49 on the highway. The starting price was around $20,000, $3,000 cheaper than the old model. The lower price came in part as response to the Honda Insight hybrid, which sells for $19,000.

In his 34-mile test drive of the 2010 Prius in stop-and-go traffic, averaging 27 mph, Garret said he got 60 mpg and a friend taking the same route got 74 mpg. Garret said he got his best mileage “when my move on and off the accelerator was like a teenager on his first day of driver’s ed.” The pulse-and- glide technique “consists of goosing the gas pedal for about 10 seconds to bring up the speed and torque efficiency of the gasoline engine, then gliding with foot off the accelerator for a few seconds to bring in th maximum benefit form the electric motors. You can always monitor the effect of this by watching the “instantaneous fuel consumption meter” and the new “hybrid system indicator” graph on the information-laden dashboard display.

The new Prius offers three performance modes: EV fo electric only, ECO for economy and POWER for power. In the EV mode its possible to travel up to a mile at 24 mph or less, on battery power alone. But that discharges the battery and it takes 20 to 30 miles of driving to recharge it.

Prius remained the top-selling car in Japan through the summer of 2011. In September 2011, it reached the 1 million mark in domestic sales. Toyota sold 315,669 Priuses in Japan in 2010, breaking Japan’s annual sales record for a single model, for the first time in 20 years. The previous record was 300,008 Corollas sold by Toyota in 1990. Toyota sold its 1 millionth Prius in April 2011. The Prius was the top selling car in Japan for the first time in May 2009. The Prius was the top-selling car in Japan in fiscal 2009. Sales almost triples to 277,485 from the previous year. The Prius outsold the Suzuki WagonR minicar which had been the top seller the previous five years. The Prius was voted Car of the Year in October 2009 at the Tokyo Motor Show.

In December 2009, Toyota began leasing plug-in Priuses that can be recharged at home and elsewhere using ordinary electrical outlets. Toyota plans to debut a plug-in Prius in the U.S. in the spring of 2012. The sticker price of the vehicle, which can be recharged with a household electric outlet, will be $32,000. It can travel short distances on electric power using its lithium ion battery (25 kilometers on a single charge) and has fuel economy of 37 kilometers per liter, more than the 21 kilometers per liter achieved by a regular Prius.

Toyota Prius Still Japan's Best-Selling Car in 2011 and First Half of 2012

In January 2012, AFP reported: “The Toyota Prius was Japan’s best-selling car in 2011, the third straight year the popular gas-electric hybrid claimed the country’s top spot. A total of 252,528 units of the Prius were sold over the year, thanks in large part to the growing environment-friendly attitude among Japanese consumers. The brand's sales were assisted by solid sales of the Prius Alpha, a wagon version of the car that first hit the streets here in May. [Source: AFP, January 13, 2012]

“In July 2012, Jiji Press reported: “Toyota’s Prius hybrid was the best-selling car in Japan in the first half of 2012, industry data showed. Sales of the Prius totaled 181,630 units in January-June, up 2.1-fold year on year, thanks to the government's subsidy program for eco-friendly vehicles. Honda Motor Co.'s Fit ranked second with sales of 133,345 units. Of this number, 56 percent were hybrid versions. Toyota's Aqua subcompact hybrid came third with 128,243 units. Daihatsu Motor Co.'s Mira ranked fourth, Honda's N Box fifth, Suzuki Motor Corp.'s Wagon R sixth, and Daihatsu's Tanto and Move seventh and eighth, respectively. All five models are minivehicles. Honda's Freed minivan ranked ninth, followed by Toyota's Vitz subcompact. [Source: Jiji Press, July 6, 2012]

“In June, the Prius ranked No. 1 for the 13th consecutive month with sales of 28,456 units, followed by the Aqua with 25,079 units. The N Box was third with 23,090 units. The data were compiled by the Japan Automobile Dealers Association and the Japan Mini Vehicles Association.

Newer, Higher-Priced Priuses

In January 2012, AFP reported, Toyota is aiming to hang on to the top spot in the year ahead, unveiling the Prius c at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The car -- the "c" stands for city -- is a more compact, nimble and affordable version of the Prius that is designed for young city residents and will go on sale in March. Honda Motor Co.'s Fit was second on the best-seller list with 207,882 units, up from fourth spot in the previous year's rankings, while the Wagon R minicar by Suzuki Motor Corp. was third with sales of 160,439 units. [Source: AFP, January 13, 2012]

“In November 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Toyota will slightly increase the price of its popular Prius hybrid car when it partially upgrades the vehicle later this year, due to rising material prices and the super-strong yen, it has been learned. The Prius' minimum price will be 2.17 million yen, up from the current 2.05 million yen, according to sources.

“Higher prices for rare earths used mainly in the car's electric motor and steel sheets used for the car's body, in addition to the yen's hyper-appreciation in recent months, have eroded Toyota's earnings, the sources said. Raising the price of the Prius is intended to ensure Toyota can make a definite profit.

“The partial facelift will be the first to the third-generation Prius that was launched in May 2009. High-quality paint will be used for the inner side of the doors, while its display will be altered for better visibility and operability. The bumpers and rear lights also will be redesigned, the sources said. The third-generation Prius can run 38 kilometers per liter of gasoline.

“The decision to increase the car's price marks a U-turn for toyota. The nation's biggest automaker cut the minimum price of the current Prius by about 280,000 yen from the previous model to counter the challenge presented by Honda Motor Co.'s Insight hybrid that hit the market in February 2009 and had a price tag starting at 1.89 million yen.

Toyota Unveils 'World's Most Efficient Hybrid' in 2012

In April 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Toyota is developing a small hybrid car that can travel 60 kilometers per liter of gasoline, which would make it the world's most fuel-efficient hybrid. The next-generation vehicle combines a one-liter gasoline engine and an electric motor smaller than that fitted in the current Prius model, according to Toyota officials.

“The automaker is trying to reduce the body weight and air resistance of the vehicle, which could go on the market from the latter half of the 2010s. At the Geneva International Motor Show last month, Toyota unveiled a prototype of its next-generation hybrid line currently under development. The vehicle's gas mileage of 60 kilometers per liter was calculated based on the JC08 mode cycle, a new method set by the government that tests cars in realistic driving conditions. Under the same method, the Prius runs 32.6 kilometers per liter and the Aqua runs 35.4 kilometers.

Other Toyota Hybrid Models

Lexus hybrid
Toyota is the largest producer of hybrid vehicles. As of 2008, Toyota sold six hybrid models in the United States, including the Prius sedan, the Estima minivan, and the Crown luxury car, the Highlander SUV, a hybrid version of the Lexus RX 330 SUV, a hybrid Camry and hybrid Lexus LS 600, which sells for $140,000.

Some hybrids like the Prius are tuned for maximum gas mileage. Others like the Lexus are tuned for performance with hybrid technology providing a small boost in gas mileage. In the mid and late 2000s when oil prices were reaching all time highs Toyota said that it might switch all of its vehicles over to hybrid engines,

A Toyota hybrid — the HV-R — won a 24-hour endurance care in Hokkaido. The car was able to draw a surprising amount of energy from the car’s acceleration and braking Toyota hope so race the same car in Le Man.

Sales of the RX4 — hybrid SUV reached 85,000 world wide between 2005 and 2006. Another hybrid SUV, the Highlander, sold 67,000 over the same time period.

Toyota is now aiming to improve the “wow” factor of its hybrids. A model planed for introduction in 2009 has a button that allows drivers to run solely on battery power for a few miles before the energy supply is used up and the gas engines kicks in again. The FT-HS is concept car with hybrid technology, 0-to-60 in four seconds accelerating and gas mileage like that of Celica, The aim to get the cost down to around $35,000.

In one test, a Toyota fuel-cell hybrid was able to go 480 kilometers on a single tank if hydrogen, Toyota is also experimenting with carbon fibers and other materials t make its vehicles lighter. One experimental vehicle, the 1/X plug-in hybrid made with such material, weighs one third less than a Prius and get double the Prius’s gas mileage,

Toyota has said that it hopes to begin selling a plug-in hybrid in 2011. The vehicle will likely cost $30,000 or more. Toyota plans to introduce an “ultra-fuel-efficient” hybrid as early as 2010 that gets 40 kilometers per liter and costs less than $15,000. The design is based in the Vitz minicar.

Toyota introduced its first hybrid-only Lexus model — the HS250h — in July 2005. Starting at about $40,000, it was launched with a promotion featured Miss Universe 2007 — Japan’s Ryo Mori — and Miss Universe 2006 first runner-up — Kurara Chibana, also from Japan.In October 2009, Toyota unveiled the Sai hybrid luxury sedan, part of its expanded range of hybrids, The Sai gets 23 kilometers per liter, and is roomier, has a bigger engine and more features than other Toyota hybrids.

In April 2011, Toyota introduced a new seven-seat hybrid station wagon with a lithium-ion battery. Toyota plans to introduce 12 new hybrids in 2012.

Toyota Electric Cars

In 1996, Toyota and Panasonic formed a joint venture — Panasonic EV Energy — to produce nickel-metal batteries for hybrid cars. The company is world’s largest producer of nickel hydrogen batteries and is a major maker of lithium ion batteries for next generation hybrid cars, which can be electrically charged at home. Panasonic EV Energy broke ground on a new plant in Sendai in November 2008. In August 2009, Toyota said that it would purchase lithium ion batteries from Sanyo for its hybrids, citing that the technology of the batteries was “high.”

Toyota plans to begin selling electric cars in 2012. At the Tokyo Auto show in 2009, it unveiled the FT EV-11, a 2.7-meter-long electric vehicle which is more compact than the iQ car

The Toyota I-Real single-person electric vehicle went into service at Chiba airport in June 2009. Resembling a futuristic wheelchair, it is used by security teams. It has three wheels and an can reach speeds of 15 kph although it is designed to mainly cruise around at about 6 mph. It has a range of 30 kilometers per charge and deputed at the Tokyo Motor Show in 2007.

Toyota Electric Cars and Tesla

In June 2010, Toyota announced a tie up with U.S. electric car maker Tesla. In the deal Toyota provided Tesla with $50 million in capital by buying up Tesla stock on the Nasdaq market while Tesla promised to use the NUMMI California plant that Toyota had closed, easing criticism of the Japanese automaker in the United States. The deal also boosted Tesla’s credibility as a bonafide carmaker and boosted Toyota’s image as a maker of eco-friendly cars.

The deal was reportedly struck after Toyota President Toyoda was taken for a drive in a Tesla electric car by Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk. Toyoda was said to be impressed with the Tesla electric roadster, which went on sale in 2008 with a price tag of $109,000 and has a top speed of 200 kph and a range of 400 kilometers. Palo-Alto-based Tesla was founded in 2003 with money from Google founder Larry Page among others. Among those who own the roadster are Arnold Swarzenegger. Tesla plans to sell a mass-market electricity luxury sedan in 2012 for $50,000.

In October 2010, Toyota gave Tesla $60 million to develop an “electric power-train system” to be used in SUVs.

In January 2011, Toyota announced it had made great advances in developing future hybrid and electric engines that didn’t use rare earths. The main technology behind the advance is the development of an “induction” motor that is lighter and more efficient than the magnetic type now used in the Prius. One of goals behind developing such motors is to prevent Toyota from being caught out in the cold if supplies of rare earths suddenly dry up. In 2012, Toyota hopes to sell an electric RAV4 compact SUV with an induction motor supplied by Tesla Motors that uses no rare earths.

Image Sources: Toyota

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2012

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