Wed, Mar 29, 2017 3:21 PM
The last day of January 2017 was a momentous one for global car manufacturer Toyota, and in particular its standing as one of the world’s leaders in hybrid vehicle technology.
On that date, the company registered the 10 millionth sale of one of its hybrid petrol-electric powered cars.
With its sales now having made it into seven figures, Toyota claims that the landmark “demonstrates the staying power of a technology that is emerging as a mainstream choice for helping reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants.”
Toyota’s range of hybrid-powered cars on sale in the UK now extends to seven models, and the total range offered by it and sister luxury car brand, Lexus now runs to an incredible 33, various of which are sold in no fewer than 90 countries around the world.
But the trailblazer, and by far its best-known of such models, is the Prius. It may be hard to believe, but it was as long ago as 2000 when this car first went on sale in the UK - and this itself was three years after it had debuted in its Japanese homeland.
It was a modest sales success, but when it’s considered that its £16,000 asking price was £6,000 more than for a Honda Civic at the time - and for what, from the outside, looked little different from an average saloon car - this is now widely considered to have been a significant obstacle to it becoming a runaway success.
Writing on RACCars.co.uk, motoring journalist Andy Enright notes: “Toyota realised that the sticker price was way more than the market would bear but rather than merely slash the asking price, they replaced the Prius with a much larger and sleeker hatchback model.”
Despite this sticky start, Toyota says that more than 250,000 Priuses and other cars from its hybrid range have now been sold in the UK. Even more impressively, hybrids now make up 99 per cent of all new Lexus car sales here, and the premium Toyota-owned brand now sells eight such models.
At the end of January 2017, the cumulative UK sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids stood at 254,414 vehicles, of which 174,861 bore a Toyota badge, and 79,553 were Lexuses.
“When we launched Prius, no one even knew what a hybrid was,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Chairman of the Board of Directors at Toyota and popularly known as the father of Prius. “Those who drove it were called geeks or other names. Today, thanks to those early adopters who gave Prius a chance, hybrids have grown in popularity, and have ridden a wave of success out of the unknown and into the mainstream.”
By Toyota’s own estimates, as at 31 January 2017, drivers using its hybrid vehicles instead of a similar-sized petrol-driven car with comparable performance have helped save about 77 million tonnes of CO2 from entering the atmosphere, and have also saved about 29 million litres of petrol.*
The Prius model most people probably know best was launched in the UK in 2004, packing in an amazing 530 patents. Thanks to a design which gave it a drag coefficient of 0.26 and made it one of the most streamlined cars ever to hit British roads, the car’s main selling point was its lightweight but tremendously strong bodyshell, which resulted in it earning a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating - equalling the highest ever score in its segment.
With this model, Toyota launched what it called its Hybrid Synergy Drive, a propulsion system which meant, for the first time, that instead of relying on the petrol engine to produce peak performance, with the electric motor as an ancillary, HSD increased the range and usage of the electric motor to focus on stronger performance.
This gave the Prius a big improvement in its pulling power from low speeds, a result of the car producing more torque between rest and 1,200rpm than any conventional diesel engine on sale at the time.
The second big advance incorporated into this Prius was the use of regenerative braking. This captured the kinetic energy normally wasted through heat when the driver applied the car’s brakes. Each time the brake pedal was pressed, the electric motor reversed its role and became a generator feeding electrical energy back into the battery.
The 500,000 sales landmark was passed in April 2006, as the Prius was also named top car in JD Power’s customer satisfaction surveys in the UK, France and Germany.
Other distinctions claimed by this second-generation Prius include a spell as the fastest-selling used car on forecourts throughout the UK, in autumn 2014.
The Prius’s exemption from road tax, favourable status when it comes to the tax charge payable by drivers who use one as a company car, and exemption from the London congestion charge have been other major factors in its success.
Meanwhile, Toyota is continuing to push the adoption of its version of electric car technology by carrying out several strands of research designed to make electric cars easier to live with. One of these is the testing of a new wireless battery charging system for its electric vehicles. This allows a vehicle to be charged just by parking it over the top of a set of electrical coils set into the ground, so making the process easier and eliminating the need for cables and connectors.
The Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050, announced in October 2015, set challenges to help reduce the global negative environmental impact of vehicles to as close to zero as possible and to contribute to the creation of a sustainable society.
These included achieving a 90 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from its vehicles by 2050, based on 2010 levels, aiming towards a zero CO2 level for emissions created by the processes of materials production, disposal and recycling of vehicles, and “comprehensive” cuts in the amount of water used in the process of making its vehicles, as well as purifying and returning as much of this water and making it possible for re-use.
The range of Toyota hybrid vehicles is, of course, far larger than just the Prius. For example, the Toyota Yaris hybrid is its first supermini to use the parallel technology, and, on its launch, was the cheapest car boasting full hybrid technology on sale in the UK.
The battery-powered Yaris came in for praise from the testers at Autocar for its “packaging prowess [which] kept the battery within the wheelbase and mounted it as low as possible to retain a respectable centre of gravity.”
They added: “The extra heft is actually welcome because it makes the Hybrid feel slightly more substantial and less easily disturbed over smaller bumps.”
Another notably well-received member of the Toyota family of hybrid cars has been the Auris. This, said Auto Express, makes a particularly compelling choice for company car drivers, because of its placing in the ultra-low 10 per cent company car tax bracket, which promises an annual tax bill £200 cheaper than a comparable Golf diesel. A particular benefit of this model for anyone will be noticed by drivers and their passengers who need to carry large amounts of luggage, because the car’s battery pack has minimal effect on the overall level of space available.
One of the most attractive propositions in the Toyota hybrid range has to be the RAV-4, which combines the go-anywhere capabilities of the original MPV with the lower fuel bills which is a major factor in many people’s choice of this kind of power in their new car.
Among the owners who’ve reported back on their ownership experience is ‘Wiggy’ from Warrington, Cheshire, who commented: “Have really enjoyed the first month of driving my new RAV-4. It's so quiet and silky smooth that it's a relaxing experience but with more than enough 'oomph' when required.” Another happy driver ‘Alison’ from Manchester, wrote: “I have been waiting for Toyota to produce a Hybrid RAV-4 and they have done so beautifully with this car. It is very easy to drive, either on motorways or on the commute I am delighted with it!”
Finally, if you’re one of those drivers who still believes that owning and running a hybrid car demands lots of compromises, this is how an anonymous owner from Colchester, Essex, enthused about their car. “Such a joy to drive. Outstanding quality, really solid and the hybrid engine which frequently runs on battery rather than petrol. Fuel economy is wonderful - have only filled up once and have so far done just under 600 miles. Well appointed in every respect - an absolute stunner of a car much admired by friends and family. 100% pleased with my choice.”
*Toyota’s own calculation, based on the number of registered vehicles, multiplied by the distance travelled, multiplied by fuel efficiency (actual fuel efficiency in each country), multiplied by a CO2 conversion factor.
If you’ve been chewing over whether to put a Toyota Yaris Hybrid, Toyota Auris Hybrid, Toyota Prius Hybrid, Toyota C-HR Hybrid or Toyota RAV4 Hybrid on the shortlist of choices for your next car, come and find out more about how they work, and the benefits they can bring to most types of motoring, at Oakmere Toyota. You’ll find us on Manchester Road, Northwich.