Toyota executives cited two reasons for their choice of nickel-metal hydride.
"It’s a tried-and-true technology that has a decade of success behind it," Toyota spokesman Greg Thome told us. "It's also got the lower-cost technology that we can offer to younger hybrid adopters." The nickel-metal hydride battery pack is located under the rear passenger seat, near the center of the vehicle, and sits low in the chassis to lower the vehicle's center of gravity.
Toyota engineers also made an effort to optimize the motor-generator for the five-door subcompact, Thome said.
"In addition to making the battery smaller, we took special pains to keep the motor-generator smaller, as well," he said. "It's constructed the same as the Prius Liftback's motor-generator, but we tried to optimize the sizing and packaging for a smaller vehicle." The motor's output is 60hp, versus 80hp on earlier Priuses.
The Prius family, unveiled two years ago at the Detroit Auto Show, also includes the Prius Liftback, the Prius v, and the plug-in Prius PHV, which will be introduced this year.
For a deep look at GM's Chevy Volt, we recommend you go to the Drive for Innovation site and follow the cross-country journey of EE Life editorial director Brian Fuller. In the trip, sponsored by Avnet Express, Fuller is taking the fire-engine-red Volt to innovation hubs across America, interviewing engineers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and students as he blogs his way across the country.
I like the look of this Prius--it definitely captures some of that sporty, minimialist look that seems to be a must among a lot of the cooler, boxy vehicles that appeal to the younger crowd. So with this Prius model, there is no charging--the hybrid approach means the gasoline engine charges the battery when in motion, right? Having to keep the vehicle charged would be a big problem since many citites still don't have adequate charging infrastructure available and younger buyers don't typically own homes where they can create that infrastructure on their own.
If they can sell it for under $19,000, I will seriously consider making a Prius my next car purchase. Up to now, I considered a hybrid to be out of my price range - and with plenty of non-hybrid small cars on the market getting great gas milage, it seemed like a hybrid powertrain wasn't worth the cost premium. But at thiis price, I'd be very interested.
I've often heard that the Prius was a very noisy car to ride in, even though it doesn't make any engine noise when coasting at 5-10 mph. Chuck, is this true, and, if so, has Toyota ever addressed this issue, especially with its newer models?
The lower price could be a good test on the validity of the hybrid and EV models. Are these cars specialized second cars for those who have extra cash and want to demonstrate a commitment to green living. Or, are they viable autos that make sense as a primary vehicle?
If they succeed in volume, the recharging infrastructure will follow. If they succeed in volume, the price will stay in check or perhaps come down more.
Jenn: You are probably referring to some of the recent suggestions of wind/road noise associated with the Prius v, which came out in 2011. I've driven it and don't think it's an issue. From the outside, the Prius v is so quiet that Toyota is adding noise to help alert blind pedestrians.
That's a stunningly lower price, or maybe I haven't been paying attention recently. A friend and ex-colleague of mine who also lives way out here in the boonies bought one of the first Prius' at $35K. It was incredibly quiet, very powerful and impressed the heck out of me. But the price was too high. Under $19,000 looks very possible, and at least that earlier model was just fine for country driving. My friend is still very happy with it, and especially happy about all the money he's saved on gas.
This is a price point that will appeal to younger and first time buyers. On the other hand, I read recently, that one of the problems that the car companies had was that these buyers were foregoing automobiles. I have certianly noticed that with my sons and their friends. They don't seem to be rushing out to get their driver's licenses, much less a car. If there are a few that have a car, then they have no problem with asking for a ride. They also tend to live in cities where they can use public transport.
As for the Prius generally, these are relatively small cars. Even the standard Prius. So, for buyers with the money to buy one, they are typically second or third cars. Bringing the price down to this level might encourage some who commute by car to buy one just to insulate themselves from gasoline price shocks. I would certianly look at the Prius or the Fiat 500.
The companies do seem to following a model, which works. Bring out the more expensive model for those with a lot of disposable income. This allows one to recover engineering costs faster and to gain some experience with the new technology. This is the strategy articulated by Tesla in the all electric segment. There the cost of the batteries is very high. My understanding for the Tesla is that the battery pack was 25% of the $100K vehicle. The expectation is that the cost of the batteries will come down over time. It is happening more slowly than people thought.
Price is the key. I looked at a competing US made hybrid. The payback period (as comapred to the gasoline version) at $2.50 per gallon was less that two years. That was worth it. The Prius was always a little pricey as far as that goes. That is why Toyota still sells mostly conventionally gasoline powered cars.
I think the price point can appeal to everyone, not just younger people. I'm neither younger nor a first-time buyer and this is the price point that will let me finally buy a hybrid. In fact, my equally older friend who spent $35K on the early Prius only was able to do so because he got a small windfall in the form of a $30K inheritance. And he bought it as his only car, not a second or third car.
If the car companies still think there are lots of people out there with lots of disposable income, perhaps they need to read more of the financial news. You know, that Great Depression thing? The one that pillaged so many of the Boomers' retirement incomes?
I agree with naperlou, the two-year payback period is also a winner.
One thing I haven't seen when it comes to the cost evaluation of hybrids and EVs is the cost of electricity. That's not free. So a cost analysis on whether a hybrid or EV pays for itself would have to include the cost of electricity, just as an environmental assessment would have to include the coal (usually) burned to create the electricity.
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