Toyota shows the new Prius hybrid with more power, range, style

TOKYO (AP) – The new Toyota gas-electric Prius hybrid not only comes with more power, acceleration and driving range. It’s also more stylish, ditching the slightly stodgy angular body for a sleek futuristic look.

Simon Humphries, senior general manager of Toyota Global design that announced the car in Tokyo on Wednesday, stressed that the company is still defying the skeptics who keep asking how long the Japanese automaker will stick with hybrids in the fast electrifying industry.

“Simply because the Prius is an eco car in the reach of everyone. In order to achieve carbon neutrality, everyone in the world must participate. We need an ecological solution in the reach of many. And it must start today, not tomorrow,” he told reporters.

The fifth generation Prius hybrid model will go on sale this winter first in Japan and then the plug-in version in the US will hit the market next year, according to Toyota Motor Corp. Price not announced.

Automakers are replacing older nickel-metal-hydride batteries with smaller lithium-ion batteries. The result will be nearly double the horsepower, faster acceleration and 50% longer range.

The Prius, which went on sale in 1997, switches back and forth between a gasoline engine and an electric motor to deliver a cleaner drive than models with a regular combustion engine.

Electric cars have zero emissions but need charging. Some consumers worry about running out of juice on the road. A hybrid always has a gas engine as a backup.

Toyota has cumulatively sold more than 20.3 million hybrid vehicles, including the Prius car, around the world to date. Prius, which means “pioneer” or “first” in Latin, has defined Toyota as a brand like its Lexus luxury model.

However, Toyota is sometimes criticized by environmentalists as dragging its feet on electrification, although some analysts say it is quite fair given that other automakers also have several electric cars in their lineup, and many others have developed various hybrid models.

“The sale of more hybrid vehicles, including the Prius, is dragging us further into the climate crisis,” said Daniel Read of Greenpeace East Asia, based in Tokyo.

Baca said electric vehicles and fuel cell models are a better solution against climate change than hybrids.

Humphries said the new Prius is made more stable, with a lower center of gravity, with larger tires, curved lines for the overall design and a luxurious interior.

He said it was more of an expression of love than a commodity. Creating hybrid taxis or offering them to other manufacturers could also be steps to spread the technology, he added, both of which Toyota has decided to do.

“We really believe that the next step for the Prius is to be a ‘car without compromise’ to increase its appeal to customers,” said Humphries, standing in front of a screen sprayed with the words: “We choose love.”

The Prius, with its revamped styling and efficiency, will compete better not only with other hybrid models but also with the next generation of fully electric vehicles, said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst for S&P Global Mobility.

Prius models have always served as a bridge to a time when there are more charging stations for EVs, said Brinley, who believes the new Prius will fare better against hybrids and plug-ins from Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Jeep.

By adding 50% to the battery range, which translates to around 38 miles (61 kilometers), it can go far enough to cover the average US driver’s commute and errands around the city. A hybrid powertrain allows for road trips without worrying about an incomplete charging network, Brinley said.

“It will really make driving more confident,” he said.

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Krisher reported from Detroit.

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Krisher is on Twitter https://twitter.com/tkrisher

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter https://twitter.com/yurikageyama

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