Thursday, December 22, 2011

Prius C - Baby of the Family

Toyota released photos of the Prius C yesterday. The car will be formally introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month and will be available at dealerships in 2012. The question is, why didn't they think of this sooner?

The Prius, Toyota's hybrid vehicle, is the poster child for high efficiency driving. It's by far the largest selling hybrid and is almost the generic name for gas/electric vehicles--like "Kleenex" for tissues or "iPod" for MP3 player. Expanding the family makes good marketing sense, since the name is already familiar and associated with high efficiency motoring.

One way to give a car higher fuel efficiency is to make it smaller and lighter. That's why a car like the excellent Mazda2 can get superior mileage without the extra cost, complexity and weight of a hybrid. Remember -- a hybrid has to use a gas engine and an electric motor -- and all the technology that links them together, including extra-large batteries and the regenerative braking system.

All that being said, the Prius C (compact?) will be smaller and lighter than the standard Prius, which actually is much larger than you might think (check out the back seat and cargo capacity). Based on the subcompact Yaris platform, the Prius C should already be pretty efficient just by its size and weight. If the standard Prius can average 50 miles per gallon, could the new baby Prius get 60? If so, it would immediately carve itself a nice fat slice out of the high efficiency car market. Being smaller and lighter, it should be more affordable too, putting a Prius in even more garages across the U.S. and the world.

The Prius V, a bigger wagon model, just debuted. It's a lovely thing, but with its larger size and greater weight, its fuel economy numbers are lower than a standard Prius (44/40).

I eagerly await a test of the new Prius C and will report on it right here.

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