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A Look Ahead for the Toyota Prius

A Look Ahead for the Toyota Prius

 

Author: Casey Copeland

With over one million Toyota Prius Hybrids on the road today, it\'s clear that drivers are embracing the Prius in numbers that can\'t be ignored by the world\'s automakers. In fact, Prius Hybrids are outselling entire brands like Acura, Saturn, Buick, Subaru and Mercury and are very close to eclipsing sales of Cadillacs and Volkswagens. Although only 2.3% of the cars on American roads are hybrids, Toyota is having a difficult time keeping up with demand. Dealerships across the country are selling Prius Hybrids as quickly as they can be built, and it\'s a seller\'s market for a pre-owned Prius. This trend is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

But why is the Prius Hybrid so popular and why are so many buyers willing to wait months for a new one\' For some, it seems to be the Prius Hybrid\'s fuel economy. Boasting an average of 45 MPG in highway driving and 48 MPG for city driving with some Prius owners reporting even better mileage figures in the mid 50\'s, the Prius is very economical to drive. When combining those figures with soaring gas prices and a slumping economy, drivers get three very compelling reasons to invest in this fairly new technology.

Others drivers choose the Prius to lower their carbon footprint and set an example of environmental responsibility in a time when so many sports utility vehicles remain on the road. Most likely, Prius owners buy this vehicle because of a combination of the factors above and Toyota\'s remarkable reputation for building dependable cars that last for many years and tens of thousands of miles.

A Brief History of the Prius Hybrid

In 1994, Toyota\'s forward-thinking management sensed a trend emerging and tasked their engineers with designing and building a hybrid which wary buyers would embrace. Engine design and battery life were huge obstacles, and Toyota engineers reviewed and tested over 100 different engine designs before finding one they were confident could be mass-produced and uphold Toyota\'s reputation for dependability. After initial testing and modestly successful sales figures in Japan, the Prius was launched worldwide in late 1997. From the very beginning, demand for the Prius was very high and has remained so to this day.

Today\'s Prius

The 2009 Prius models being delivered to dealerships across the country represent the third generation of the model with roomier, more comfortable interiors and many creature comforts that drivers expect. They also sport innovations like the dashboard display which shows continuously updated performance figures of the hybrid system and batteries designed to last up to 300,000 miles if the car is properly maintained. The Prius continues to outsell the hybrid models from other automakers by a wide margin and Prius owners report very high rates of customer satisfaction.

Future Plans for the Prius

President of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. James Lentz III has said that Toyota is considering setting up the Prius as a separate brand like their Scion line. He has said that essentially Prius customers have already created the brand and the continuing popularity of the Prius warrants the creation of Prius as a separate line, although there are currently no plans to open Prius-only dealerships. He went on to say that plans are in the works for a compact Prius, a Prius wagon and a Prius built on a crossover platform which would appeal to SUV drivers. Toyota expects to open a Prius plant in Mississippi in 2010 which would increase production by 60%, lower delivery costs and allow them to meet rising demand. Buyers looking at a Prius Hybrid for their next car can expect greater variety and availability in the not too distant future.

Toyota is also looking at several innovations for future Prius models including a plug-in option, 10% better fuel efficiency, a larger 1.8-liter engine, an exterior redesign and the aforementioned compact, wagon and crossover models. Given that Toyota is very careful about leaking plans without having them well underway, it would seem likely that the company is planning to introduce these and other innovations for the Prius fairly soon.

The Toyota Prius draws its name from a Latin term that means \"[to go] before\". Not only is the name apt for the model (given current high gas prices and most drivers? eagerness to save money, reduce our reliance on imported oil and set an example of environmental responsibility), it seems to indicate Toyota?s prescience as well.

Casey Copeland is from Jay Wolfe Toyota of West County, a family-owned and operated St. Louis Toyota dealership.  The Misouri dealership sells the highly popular Toyota Prius, a hybrid vehicle.

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