07 Oct
Will Toyota's Prius continue to be a popular feature on roads across the globe?

The oldest and the best: Is Toyota still leading the hybrid vehicle charge?

The combination of battery and a more traditional internal combustion engine may seem like a match made in heaven, but the mechanics of making it happen limited the technology from entering the mainstream until the 21st century.

One company pioneered hybrid drivetrains even before that, with Toyota launching the first Prius back in 1997. Since then, the vehicle has been refined, and even adopted by myriad environment-conscious celebrities along the way.

Reinventing the wheel?

Today, there are several companies pursuing ways to incorporate hybrid technology into their endeavours, with even the top tier of motorsport – Formula One – using it. Consequently, it's grown more difficult for Toyota to stay ahead of the game, but the Japanese marque is looking to do just that with the latest version of the Prius.

Traditionally, Prius drivers have slept safe in the knowledge that they're not only cutting their carbon footprint to an extent, but also managing to save a few dollars.

The latter is due to the vehicle's superior economy figures. For example, if you were to top up a Prius using a fuel card, the car's hybrid technology could make the petrol powering the internal combustion half of the system go even further.

The new Prius will build on the eco-consciousness that define the vehicle's heritage.

Shifting focus

However, Toyota now sees itself as a market leader when it comes to efficiency, so the focus has shifted to making the Prius more practical and drivable from day-to-day.

"What was once a rational purchase that for many customers focused on fuel economy, is now so much more. This Prius will invite new drivers into the category by delivering an impressive look and feel, built on the foundation of safety and eco-consciousness that define the vehicle's heritage," explained group vice president and general manager of Toyota Division Bill Fay.

A losing battle?

Toyota has had to alter its approach with Prius simply because the technology it pioneered nearly 20 years ago just isn't as groundbreaking in the here and now. More manufacturers are getting results with fuel saving measures such as fitting small capacity engines with turbochargers and continuously variable transmissions in efforts to equal or even surpass the Prius' economy figures.

"Now we've got multiple economy cars approaching 50 miles per gallon (mpg) and a range of midsize and compact SUV's achieving 30-plus mpg. All of these factors have diminished the Prius' appeal," explained senior analyst with Kelley Blue Book Karl Brauer, as quoted by Wired.

Whether the new features of the Prius will continue to make it a market leader remain to be seen, but there can be little denying that Toyota should be saluted for its efforts to bring hybrid efficiency to the masses.