Photo: Michael Graham Richard
The Little Car that Could
The Toyota Prius hybrid has been sold in the U.S. for 10 years (even longer in Japan, where it was first introduced in 1997), and during that decade this car went from a small niche player considered 'weird' by most people (I remember back when the #1 question was "do you have to plug it in?") to a best-seller halo car whose technology has found its way in many other models, including vehicles made by Toyota's competitors. During that decade in the U.S., Toyota has sold about 900,000 Prius hybrids there, and about 1.8 million worldwide. Read on for more details and photos of the different Prius versions.
Photos: Wikipedia, all public domain.
Perspective on the Prius
The Prius certainly isn't perfect. It's still much better to walk, cycling, take public transit or telecommute. It still burns gas and releases CO2. But with that being said, it is better than most other vehicles on the road: Its CO2 emissions are lower because it gets better gas mileage than almost everything else, and when it comes to smog-forming emissions, what comes out the tailpipe is cleaner (AT-PZEV rating) than for the vast majority of vehicles. The battery pack is recycled at the end of the car's life, and while there's an environmental cost to making it, it's still better than the thousands of extra gallons of non-renewable oil that would be burned by a non-hybrid vehicle with lower MPG and higher emissions.
Most life-cycle analysis studies show that a vehicle's total environmental footprint is 80%+ fuel, with the rest going to manufacturing and disposal/recycling. So better MPG really makes a big difference.
But most importantly, the Prius is just the beginning of a much longer transition away from fossil fuels and toward electrification, which is a more efficient way to do things, and allows the use of many clean and renewable source of energy for transportation (which is harder to do with the internal combustion engine). But more on this in an upcoming series of posts...
Prius Timeline: Significant Dates and Milestones
1990: Meetings begin concept work on Project G21, "a car for the 21st Century", in Toyota City and Higashifugi Technical Center. Fuel economy target was 20 kilometers per liter, about 50% better than other passenger cars of the time.
1994 (January): Project team addresses drivetrain, chassis and packaging decisions. The team was granted the right to develop new parts from scratch "if necessary."
1994 (July): G21 Project, Phase III begins, accelerating development for production of the Prius parallel to development of Toyota's experimental hybrid system.
1995 (June): Toyota Hybrid System approved and code-named 890T.
1995 (October): Hybrid concept Prius displayed at Tokyo Motor Show with propulsion system described as Toyota-EMS ("Energy Management System").
1996 (December): Anticipating the future EV and hybrid vehicle market, Panasonic EV Energy was established as a joint venture between Matsushita and Toyota.
1997 (December): Gen 1 Prius launched in Japan after a final design period of 17 months. Wins Japan Car of the Year award and Global Climate Protection Award from the U.S. EPA, among other accolades.
1998: Announced in July that Toyota would export 20,000 units annually to North America and Europe.
2000: Post-Prius era of automotive history begins. From this time on, the concept of environmental performance begins to take root, and all economy cars would be compared to the Prius.
2003: Prius sales hit 24,000 units, double the number originally planned.
2004: Second generation Prius launched, called "Car of the Year" by Motor Trend Magazine.
2007: Total U.S. Prius sales reach 500,000 units since it first launched in July 2000.
2008: National average gas prices hit $4.09 per gallon on July 7.
2009: Third generation Prius launched as 2010 model with larger 1.8-liter engine, 0.25 coefficient of drag and 51 mpg City.
This shows just how big of a project this was..
More on Green(er) Transportation
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