Toyota is not only the automotive industry leader in hybrid car research, its hybrid cars are the most popular with consumers. Toyota’s dedication to hybrid development set it apart early, and its continued efforts ensure year after year that no other automaker can come close to the successes of its flagship hybrid; the Toyota Prius.
Toyota’s mission has always been to provide clean and safe products. Thus, the company has positioned the environment as one of its most important issues and has been working toward creating a prosperous society and a world that is comfortable to live in. With this goal in mind, Toyota has been actively developing various new technologies from the perspective of achieving energy security and diversifying energy sources, which is necessitated by the dwindling supply of petroleum resources.
For example, in motive power sources for automobiles alone, we have been continuously improving conventional engines and have developed and commercialized lean-burn gasoline engines, direct injection gasoline engines and common rail direct-injection diesel engines, etc. We have also been modifying engines so that they can use alternative fuels, such as compressed natural gas (CNG), instead of gasoline or light oil, and have been installing these engines in commercially sold vehicles. Toyota has also developed and has been marketing electric vehicles (EV) that use motors for the driving source; hybrid vehicles (HV) that combine an engine and a motor, fusing the advantages of these two power sources; fuel cell hybrid vehicles (FCHV) that use fuel cells (FC) to generate electricity based on a chemical reaction between hydrogen and the oxygen in the air and that supply this electricity to electric motors to produce driving power.
In 1993, after being denied participation in the Partnership for the Next Generation of Vehicles, Toyota began developing the Prius. By 1997 it was available for sale in Japan, the first car of its kind. Consumer enthusiasm fueled research and production developments that only three years later allowed the Prius to be sold internationally. In 2000 Toyota released the Toyota Prius, the first hybrid four-door sedan available in the United States. The reception was so great that it took nearly a year to fill internet orders alone, but by 2002, the Prius was available at any Toyota dealership, if not for long. Even with a marked increase in production, there is a waiting list for a new Prius hybrid to this day.
The first version of the Prius, introduced in 1997, suffered from the same trade-off of performance versus efficiency. But in 2003, the company substantially revised the design of the hybrid system so that the onboard computer could more readily switch between the electric motor (for accelerating) and the gas engine (for cruising speeds). As a result, the vehicle got good mileage and performed like a regular car.
The Toyota Prius II won 2004 Car of the Year Awards from Motor Trend Magazine and the North American Auto Show. Toyota was surprised by the demand and pumped up its production from 36,000 to 47,000 for the U.S. market. Interested buyers waited up to six months to purchase the 2004 Prius. Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. President Jim Press called it “the hottest car we’ve ever had.”
A lot of the credit goes to the Prius, one of several car models that come out of the Tsutsumi plant. The concept of a hybrid car that runs on an electric motor and a gasoline motor goes back about 100 years, said a product manager in the global external affairs division at Toyota.
The timing couldn’t have been better. Gas prices began to climb and celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and Leonardo DiCaprio turned the Prius into a status symbol. The status symbolism surprised Toyota. Toyota had not invested much energy or time, at that point, in marketing the car.
While Toyota is certainly continuing to improve the Prius, it is setting its sights on another market: the hybrid SUV. The Toyota Highlander hybrid has been developed to interest not only the environmentally conscious, but the practical; Toyota’s green SUV not only thrusts up to 7 people forward with 270 horses, it has been engineered to meet the EPA’s much coveted SULEV rating. Arriving “early 2005” the Highlander Hybrid will most likely be the world’s first 7 person hybrid SUV.