Toyota to unveil new Prius as hybrids lose luster to battery EVs

Toyota Motor Corp. is about to take the wraps off a revamped Prius, the latest iteration of a car that normalized the idea of owning an environmentally conscious vehicle more than two decades ago.

Leonardo de Caprio drove one. Owning a Prius was cool, even a status symbol, and the less-frequent and cheaper trips that owners made to the gas pump were revelatory. Over the years, hybrid drivetrains found their way into other Toyota products. Other carmakers rolled out the technology, making it a routine aspect of driving for millions.

Even though the gas-sipping hatchback — with its combined combustion engine, electric motor and battery powertrain — paved the way for Teslas and other fully electric vehicles, it’s the less-hip option these days.

Prius sales have tapered off during the past few years. After peaking in 2010, when more than 500,000 units were sold worldwide, there’s been a gradual slide. Customers bought just short of 86,000 Priuses last year. Other Toyota hybrids, such as the RAV4, do more volume.

But consider this: Toyota has sold 4.75 million Priuses to date. That’s no easy feat. Tesla only just passed the 3 million mark for cumulative production of all its vehicles: the Roadster, Model S, X, 3 and Y.

Toyota will unveil the new Prius on Wednesday at an event in Tokyo. Official tweets from the carmaker, as well as other images floating around, suggest a sportier look. The tagline “Hybrid Reborn” is being used. Motor Trend even asks: “Is the Next-Gen Toyota Prius Actually Kind of Hot?”

To a certain extent, it probably doesn’t matter whether the new Prius becomes a top-selling model again. Sure, Toyota would like that, but hybrid technology is now spread across its product line, including the Lexus brand.

And EVs have become the next hot thing. Upstarts and legacy OEMs have taken control of the narrative, whipping up expectations that the fully electric era is now upon us.

While almost everyone agrees that EVs are the future, the big question is when. Some argue it’s already here. Others, including Toyota, have been penalized, in terms of public opinion and the stock market, for saying that it’s probably still a ways off. But keep in mind that of the 70.6 million vehicles sold worldwide in 2021, only 4.5 million were battery-electric, according to data compiled by BloombergNEF.

Meanwhile, Toyota is still tweaking with the hybrid formula, one that it believes will be an important bridge to an all-EV future. The Crown, a higher-end model that’s being introduced to the US market after selling for decades in Japan, features what the carmaker is calling Hybrid Max. The new drivetrain combines an turbo-equipped engine, two electric motors and a six-speed transmission. It’s a hybrid that feels like a muscle car.

Will the new Prius have the same technology? Maybe. Will Toyota continue to bet on the Prius and hybrids? Definitely. – BLOOMBERG