Spy photos capture next-generation Toyota Prius weeks before debut – Los Angeles Times
Toyota has worked hard to keep the next generation of its popular Prius hybrid under wraps, but its efforts were undone by an automotive spy photographer in Malibu this week.
The photographer snapped shots of the new Prius, the hybrid’s fourth generation, as the automaker was readying the car for its own photo shoot and briefly removed the tarp shrouding the vehicle.
What was revealed was a dramatically restyled vehicle that mostly forgoes the current model’s eco-chic egg shape for more conventional car styling.
The new Prius, which is to have its official unveiling Sept. 8 at a Toyota dealers conference in Las Vegas, looks far more conventional — like a current Honda Civic or Hyundai Elantra — than previous generations of the hybrid. It won’t stand out on the road as a green car statement as much as the current and previous versions.
It is sportier, with a short snout, stretched windshield and wraparound headlights. The car looks lower to the ground, which would lower its center of gravity and improve the Prius’ often-criticized driving characteristics.
But it’s hard to know without the vehicle specifications, and Toyota was not providing any information before the launch.
The new Prius has a dramatic crease at the top of the rear doors and body panels, and remains a hatchback. It also retains a long roof line, an aerodynamic nod that improves fuel economy.
The design appears to be following Toyota President Akio Toyoda’s directive to create cars that are more stylish, emotional and fun to drive. The 2016 Prius replaces a version that’s been on sale since 2009.
The initial reviews were good.
“That car needs a design rebirth to have a shot because fuel efficiency alone will not do it anymore,” said Karl Brauer, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “It looks like that is what Toyota delivered.”
Falling national fuel prices and a shift in consumer preference toward crossovers and sport utility vehicles have eaten into the hybrid market.
Through the first seven months of this year, Prius sales — including the compact and wagon versions — have dived more than 15% to 108,073, according to Autodata Corp.
That’s why the launch of the new model is important for Toyota and the hybrid segment of the auto market, Brauer said.
“If they can deliver a vehicle that is compelling to look at and have impressive fuel efficiency figures it will be a success, even with lower gas prices,” he said. “You need a great car that happens to get great gas mileage, that’s what modern hybrids have to be.”
Last year, Toyota sold 207,635 of the three combined Prius models, accounting for 42% of the hybrid market, according to IHS Automotive.
It’s by far the bestselling hybrid in U.S. history, having sold more than 1.8 million units since its debut as a 2001 model. It has, in recent years, often been the top-selling auto in California.
Toyota has said little about the 2016 model, but the automaker has acknowledged a few key facts: It will be in dealerships by year end, come first in hatchback form only — with wagon and compact versions to arrive later — and look more like a conventional sedan.
It will drive more like one too, with sharper handling, according to Toyota. Fuel economy will improve by about 10%, to more than 55 mpg.
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