December 10th , 2017- Will be marked as the 20th anniversary of The Toyota Prius, the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle (HV)
Consisting of a gasoline engine and an electric motor, the fuel-efficient Prius has been successful in opening up the global eco-car market. However, as countries across the world start to switch their attention to electric vehicles (EV), Toyota Motor Corp. is poised to use the electric and battery technology acquired through developing its HVs to deliver in the EV market as well. "We made it in time for the 21st century." It was slogans like this that were bandied around by Toyota when it launched the Prius back in 1997, having started development on it in 1994. The new-type Prius offered about twice as much Fuel Efficiency as Toyota's mainstay model, the Toyota Corolla -- at 28 kilometers per liter. As global awareness about the environment increased, the Prius's extraordinary fuel efficiency attracted widespread attention.
Aided by a steep rise in gasoline prices, sales of the Prius surged considerably following the launches of the second-generation and third-generation Prius models in 2003 and 2009, respectively. The fourth-generation Prius, which was released in 2015, boasts a fuel efficiency of 40.8 kilometers per liter, helping cumulative sales of the Prius reach 4.15 million units as of late October 2017.
To date, Toyota has launched 37 types of HV including the Prius in at least 90 countries across the globe. Cumulative sales of all types of HV hit 11.22 million by the end of October 2017. Furthermore, Toyota's electric cars including EVs made up for over 40 percent of the world market share in 2016. "We have succeeded in creating a new set of values," said Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, who oversaw the development of the first-generation Prius.
However, there has also been a recent backlash against HVs, as a result of EVs receiving preferential treatment over HVs under environmental regulations in western countries, China, India and elsewhere. This is why major auto firms across the world are beginning to concentrate more on developing EVs.
Recently, Toyota has placed emphasis on plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHV) that can be charged at home, as well as fuel cell vehicles (FCV). However, it has yet to produce EVs on a mass scale, which is a stance that has drawn criticism.
At a briefing aimed at the media in late November, Shizuo Abe, an executive general manager at Toyota, said, "Since launching HVs 20 years ago, we have succeeded in making auto components such as motors smaller, and increasing performance. We have even shown superiority in terms of electric car manufacturing technology."
Looking ahead, Toyota aims to use the technology developed from making HVs to produce an EV that can be mass produced in China in 2020. It also aims to develop a solid-state battery system for EVs by the first half of the 2020s.
In September, Toyota teamed up with Mazda Motor Corp. and Denso Corp. to set up a new company that will develop essential EV technology, with the aim of strengthening its commitment to EV development. However, some are worried about the potential of EVs. "Will EVs really take off, considering that they are inferior to HVs in terms of price and range?" a senior Toyota executive says.So, will Toyota be able to keep maintaining and developing its environmentally friendly image that was built up by the Prius? Questions such as this, as well as the firm's capability to adopt a flexible approach and respond to changes in the market, will no doubt come under scrutiny.