By Jim Motavalli
12:15 PM EDT, September 4, 2013
I love hybrid cars, which are obviously a big part of our transportation future. I'm currently driving a Lexus CT200h, which offers luxury cues along with 42 mpg combined (43 city/40 highway). With cars like this, there are no losers — the economy benefits from vehicles with double the fuel economy of just a few years ago, and the public doesn't have to sacrifice anything — hybrids aren't stripped economy vehicles.
My Lexus came in at $37,870, fairly steep, but it's also a showcase for all kinds of safety and infotainment technology. It's where Toyota's hybrid technology is at today, but probably not tomorrow. At the company's Hybrid World Tour in Michigan last week, Satoshi Ogosi, the managing officer of the Toyota Motor Corporation, said that the next-generation Prius is likely to wring 55 mpg combined (up from 50) with a new thermal-efficient engine and a platform called Toyota New Global Architecture.
Toyota has sold more than five million Toyota and Lexus hybrids globally over the last dozen years, and has 60 percent of the gas-electric market in the U.S. The hybrid market is much more crowded than it was in 2000, but the Prius has steadily advanced. The first U.S. model, in 2000, got 41 mpg, the second gen, 46. Ogosi said in Michigan that Toyota plans to introduce 15 new hybrid models worldwide by the end of 2015.
It's likely the next Prius hybrid will have lithium-ion batteries (as the plug-in version does now). The next-gen pack is said to have "improved batteries with higher energy density," the hallmark of li-ion. The electric motor is also going to shrink, but with four times the power density of that in the 2000 Prius.
The Prius has had the same basic exterior shape since 2004, but that's going to be tweaked for more aerodynamics. And the plug-in version will get an inductive wireless charging system that is now being tested in Japan, the U.S. and Europe.
In November, at the big Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Toyota will also show off its first commercial hydrogen fuel-cell car, a midsized four-door sedan. Expect to see that
I would be happy to own a Prius, and — if I had the money, a Lexus CT200h. The latter, though, isn't quite as practical as the Prius, and rear-seat legroom isn't all it could be. Still, it's a sophisticated ride, and proof that hybrids work in nearly every market segment. Though it looks sporty, the Lexus has a combination of a four-cylinder engine and an electric motor (connected to a CVT transmission) producing only 134 horsepower.
You can always go to the other end of the spectrum and buy a Prius C, which gets 53/46 mpg and starts at $19,080.
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