More Scuttlebutt on the 2009 Prius
From a salesman at a Toyota dealer I frequent, I heard some details about the next-generation Toyota Prius a couple of days ago. I can’t verify this information independently, but I believe it’s probably close to the truth:
1. The next-gen Prius (which may or may not be the 2010 or 2009 model) will get a new, more fuel-efficient 1.8-liter 4-cylinder gas engine from the 35-mpg 2009 Toyota Corolla. The new Prius will get higher gas mileage — probably mostly as a result of this new gas engine.
2. The new Prius body will have mild cosmetic updates, not a major upgrade. The body will have longer, sloping nose and will have a sportier appearance overall.
3. The new Prius will not have lithium-ion batteries, and I was told it will not have a larger electric motor (although that second point was conveyed with far less confidence).
4. The Prius name will be used on a small line-up of vehicles that are under development now.
5. Toyota is planning a new hybrid vehicle that will have Prius model-line badging and will be called the “Abat” (spelling?). It will be a hybrid 4×4 truck crossover based on the RAV4 platform combined with a drivetrain derived from the Camry Hybrid. My source described it as being a cross between the Subaru Brat of the late 1970s …
… and the Honda Ridgeline. It will have a fold-down rear wall that lets you extend the bed into the rear seat like the Ridgeline and Chevy Avalanche. When extended, the bed will be 6-feet long.
If this information about the Prius is true, Toyota may call the new drivetrain in next year’s Prius the third generation of its Hybrid Synergy Drive (hybrid technology), but if so it will be letting its marketing department get the best of it. Any new evolution of the hybrid technology should involve a system that lets the vehicle drive a bit faster and longer on electric power before the gas engine kicks in. In my opinion, it should also incorporate safe, longer-lasting, lighter-weight lithium-ion batteries.
That said, the new Corolla engine is EPA rated at 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway. In its initial test, Consumer Reports got 32 mpg in the mixed driving and 40 mpg on the highway — with the 4-speed automatic. The gas economy of the new 1.8-liter Corolla engine is pretty impressive. A colleague of mine recently traded in his Toyota Tundra DoubleCab pickup for the new Corolla. He tells me he’s getting 40 mpg with it. He commutes 90 miles a day (both ways), and the Corolla has cut his gasoline consumption by half.
Outlook Worsening? Or Becoming More Realistic
I probably don’t have to tell you that things are getting worse on the oil front. Despite a recent temporary drop in oil prices, many experts believe we’re not going back to sub-$100-a-barrel oil prices. General Motors announced that it’s dropping its focus on big SUVs and turning its attention to building a small vehicle with a 1.4-liter engine for domestic consumption.
I think we can finally expect to see both a raft a new hybrids as well as many more small vehicles with small, highly fuel-efficient engines. The American consumer has gotten the message. In my area, there’s now as much as a six-month wait for the Toyota Prius. People are snatching up small cars rapidly. Car sales finally beat out truck sales in May. Things are changing rapidly.
My thinking has changed too. I had been planning to keep my 2004 Toyota Tundra DoubleCab as a luxury — a weekend-only vehicle. But I’m now thinking about trading it for some sort of hybrid vehicle, possibly even a second Highlander Hybrid. I realize my purist readers are going to bash me for the large hybrid if I go that way, but I’m giving up a vehicle with ultimate utility, and I’m going to need something I can haul stuff with. I do woodworking and landscaping myself, and I’m not prying my wife’s Highlander Hybrid out of her hands, or messing it up with my Home Depot runs. I’m thinking a used 2006 Highlander Hybrid, by the way. I can’t afford the new design. They’re way expensive. But I may have trouble locating a used one.