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

TOKYO (AP) — The new Toyota gas-electric Prius hybrid doesn’t just come with more power, acceleration and range. It’s more stylish too, scrapping the rather stiff, angular body for a sleek futuristic look.

Simon Humphries, senior general manager of Global Toyota Design who unveiled the car in Tokyo on Wednesday, stressed that the company is still defying skeptics who continue to question how long the Japanese automaker will stick with hybrids in a fast-paced industry.

“Simply because the Prius is an eco-car that is within everyone’s reach. To achieve carbon neutrality, everyone in the world must participate. We need ecological solutions that are within reach of many. And it has to start today, not tomorrow,” he told reporters.

The fifth-generation Prius hybrid models will go on sale first in Japan this winter, with a plug-in version coming to market in the U.S. next year, according to Toyota Motor Corp. Prices have not been disclosed.

The automaker swapped an older nickel-metal hydride battery for a smaller, lighter lithium-ion battery. The result is nearly double the horsepower, faster acceleration and 50% greater range.

First launched in 1997, the Prius switches back and forth between a petrol engine and an electric motor to provide a cleaner drive than conventional combustion engine models.

Electric cars are emission-free, but must be charged. Some consumers worry about running out of juice on the go. A hybrid always has the petrol engine as a backup.

Toyota has sold more than 20.3 million hybrid vehicles, including Prius cars, worldwide to date. The Prius, meaning “pioneer” or “first” in Latin, has defined Toyota as a brand as well as its Lexus luxury models.

Still, Toyota has sometimes been criticized by environmentalists for being too slow with electrification, though some analysts say that’s a bit unfair given that other automakers also have few electric cars in their range and many others have developed several hybrid models.

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

Read said electric vehicles and fuel cell models were better solutions to climate change than hybrids.

Humphries said the new Prius was styled to be more stable, with a lower center of gravity, with bigger tires, curvaceous lines for the overall design and a chic interior.

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

“We really believed the next step for the Prius was to become a ‘no compromise car’ to increase its customer appeal,” said Humphries, standing in front of a screen that read: “We chose for love.”

The Prius, with its updated styling and efficiency, will be more competitive not only with other hybrid models, but also with the available generation of all-electric vehicles, said Stephanie Brinley, chief automotive analyst for S&P Global Mobility.

The Prius models have always served as a kind of bridge to a time when there are more charging stations for electric cars, said Brinley, who believes the new Prius outperforms hybrids and plug-ins from Hyundai, Kia, Ford and Jeep.

Adding 50% to the battery range, which translates to about 38 miles, it can go far enough to cover the average American driver’s commute and urban errands. The hybrid powertrain will allow for road trips without worrying about a charging network that’s not yet complete, Brinley said.

“That will really make for more confident driving,” she 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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