Hybrid cars are Toyota’s key to revive sales in the United States

Article by Christian Andrei, on December 6, 2011

Toyota has quite a tradition in building high-quality hybrid vehicles and it appears that this type of cars will be the key in reviving its U.S. sales. For those who don’t know, Toyota’s sales were hammered by the recalls but also by the Japan earthquake. Still, Toyota moved on and now it is ready to introduce two new Prius models next year but it is also planning to enter new hybrid segments such as big pickups. Moreover, the Japanese carmaker wants to shift more hybrid production to its North American plants due to the rising yen.

Apparently, this strategy could even double the number of of gasoline-electric vehicles sold annually in North America to 400,000 by 2015. But it seems that this strategy has risks as the demand for expensive hybrids correlates closely with gasoline prices.

Other automakers are catching up in fuel economy using cheaper methods such as improvements to internal-combustion drivetrains.

Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager, said, "Hybrids are a big part of our growth strategy." Moreover, Carter said that Toyota expects the Prius family to surpass the Camry in the second half of this decade and become firm’s best-selling nameplate.

Toyota recently launched the Prius V in the United States, it also started to take orders for the plug-in Prius and it will also launch the Prius C hatchback based on the Yaris.

Toyota Prius C

With a hybrid gasoline-powered engine and an electric motor, the Toyota Prius C's Hybrid Synergy Drive effortlessly integrates the two with the control computer. The engine comes with the stylish Continuously Variable Transaxle, the latest in power control inverter units, a DC-DC and step-up converter and a nickel-metal hybrid battery. The new computer manages the transition of power between the gasoline engine and the electric battery and does so in accordance with the choice of drive mode and driver specifications.

The gasoline engine is a 1.5 liter, four-cylinder SULEV (Tier 2 Bin 3) with improved efficiency due to the use of an Atkinson cycle. The engine for the Prius C is capable of 73 hp and 82 lb-ft of torque which when combined provides an output of 99 horsepower.

The hybrid part of the engine is a 144V nickel-metal battery under the rear passenger seat. In order to offset the weight, it is kept low in the chassis to improve center of gravity.

With three different driving modes (Eco, EV and Normal), the Toyota Prius has a lot of options. The Eco mode allows for a reduced consumption in energy due to effective control of the climate control and throttle. EV enables the Prius C to be driven just using the electric power for up to a mile and as long as it is kept under 25 mph.

Vehicle Structure - Improved Handling and Safety

Making increased use of much lighter materials, the Toyota Prius C body remains strong and contains more steel to reduce the mass of the vehicle and allow for a better fuel efficiency. Extensive testing has been done to look at the amount of energy which can be dispersed during a crash and high-tensile-strength steel has been inserted to improve the safety of the occupants.

Finally to aid in the handling of the Prius, changes have been made to the suspension and levels of torsional rigidity to improve handling and ride quality.

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