Toyota Turns A Plug-In Prius Launch Into A Celebration Of Hybrid Technology’s Birthday – Forbes
The symbolism couldn’t possibly have been thicker: Yesterday, Toyota announced that it had produced its 10 millionth hybrid car, a job that took them 20 years after it launched its first Prius in October of 1997. Today, the chief engineer who headed the Prius project 20 years ago, climbed the stage at the Tokyo Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation, and kicked off the start of Japanese sales of the new plug-in version of the Prius. The former chief engineer of course is Takeshi Uchiyamada. At the sprightly age of 70, he’s now chairman of Toyota. Today, he was the star of the launch event.
You probably will interject that a new plug-in Prius hardly is news. The attentive reader of Forbes indeed saw it first in June of last year. That also was the time when Toyota engineer Kouji Toyoshima said Toyota “would like to use more electricity to power our cars,” and let it slip that his company could soften its previous hard anti-battery-electric-vehicle posture a bit. The vision turned into fact late last year, when Toyota assembled a team to plan for mass-production of EVs. The team is led by Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda, and Toyoshima advanced to its General Manager post. Does that mean Toyota will walk away from hybrids? Not at all. Today, it looked as if they just get going in earnest.
If you feel like you’ve seen the new plug-in Prius elsewhere, like your Toyota dealer, right you are again. Toyota fell into the bad (especially for foreign reporters working the car beat in Japan) habit of announcing new cars abroad before they are launched at home, and today was an egregious example: The plug-in-Prius went on sale in America in October last year, as the Prius Prime. The Japanese version is exactly what you already can buy Stateside, except for two little differences.
The Japanese plug-in Prius doesn’t just plug in to get charged. It also can double as a mobile power outlet, or the world’s fastest generator. This feature has become very popular in Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. The Japanese plug-in Prius also has a solar roof. That probably comes in handy when a national disaster is so severe that both battery and tank of the Prius run dry after a few days.
During normal times, the solar roof adds a smidgen of electric range to the car. I asked Shoichi Kaneko, Deputy Chief Engineer of the plug-in Prius, how far a sunny day in Tokyo will get me, and he said “around 5 kilometers.” That would be 3 additional miles, courtesy of the sun. The solar roof will also be available in Europe when the car launches in March, but not in America. Asked why, Kaneko said those Americans drive longer distances, and “they might not see the value” of the solar roof.
More important for the true car-guy: The rear door frame with its characteristic downward bulge is made from carbon fiber, produced, as I learned today, at Toyota’s Motomachi plant on the same equipment that made the all carbon-fiber Lexus LFA supercar. Its spirit lives on in a Prius plug-in.