Will 2012 be the year when we finally see a breakthrough in hybrids sales in Canada? Or will hybrids remain at less than 2 per cent of car sales here and remain relegated to Vancouver taxi fleets and a few enviro-statement people?
Toyota, which of course is by far the leading producer of hybrids, believes they may have finally hit on the formula that will make the hybrid the go-to car at least for Gen Y. The secret? Make ‘em small and cheap. And voila – we present the Prius c – the smallest and cheapest hybrid on the road.
Now cheap is a relative measure. The Prius c is basically the 5 door Yaris but with a gasoline-electric hybrid power train. And to put a hybrid in your Yaris you’re adding about six thousand dollars to the purchase price (approx $15,000 Yaris versus $21,000 Prius c plus freight, dealer charges and tax).
Toyota gets stars in their eyes when they think about Gen Y. These “millennials” number about 90 million in North America and are expected to account for about 40 per cent of vehicle sales in the next ten years. And what do they want according to Toyota’s survey data? Sixty percent of them say they want a hybrid. Well of course it’s easy to say such a thing to sound good but let’s see how many of them actually slap their money down.
Toyota has done everything they could think of to set the Gen Y hook. Naturally the Prius c is available in some weird colours but this car is also loaded with every electronic gizmo in the book. All the entertainment and communication and car performance graphics you can imagine. Plus electronic braking and stability control systems and nine – count ’em – nine airbags. I saw a Yaris crash tested at a Toyota engineering centre. Impact speed was 110 km/h causing the most frightening noise I ever heard. When the dust settled all four doors of the Yaris could be opened normally and the computers said all the crash-test dummies were just fine.
Hybrids are all about saving fuel and Toyota says this is the most fuel-efficient non plug-in vehicle on the road today with a combined city/highway fuel consumption rating of 3.7 litres per 100 kilometres. Well I didn’t get anything like that number in a fairly lengthy test drive but I drove mostly in the left lane on an Interstate Highway. Hybrids, and this one in particular, are at their best in stop and go city driving.
In fact on the highway this one had as much driving dynamics as a dead fish. The electric steering is numb, hammering the misnamed accelerator doesn’t result in much acceleration at all – just a little more noise as the gas engine revs up – to what I don’t know as there is no tachometer. However the interior is comfortable and surprisingly spacious. Quiet it is not. I was surprised at this as Toyota says it’s loaded with sound deadening material. Maybe it was the noise from the extra hard low-rolling resistance tires. Yup, I’d get rid of those.
But let’s get back to the original question – will this be the hybrid that finally delivers some serious sales volume? Well, don’t ask me, ask some twenty year old. If they’ve gotta-have-a-hybrid then maybe this is the one because of the price and city-friendly size. Toyota is expanding the Prius line and the c is just one of the new ones. The bigger hatchback the Prius v is now seriously outselling the original liftback Prius. And orders for this Prius c are stretching the factory in Japan where they are built to the limit (30,000 cars a month for the whole world).
Toyota has done a commendable job in trimming weight and size. Its Hybrid Synergy Drive system is the smallest, lightest version ever from Toyota. The gas engine is a 16-valve 1.5-litre four-cylinder with double-overhead camshafts and variable valve timing. There’s not a fan belt or any other kind of belt driving things off the engine – it’s all electric – the steering, the cooling, the air conditioning, the works. This is one clean little car, even cleaner than the Yaris. Let’s see if it’s worth the extra six grand to Gen Y.