Evolution, not revolutionSome details have started to come out on Toyota's next-generation Prius. At a Toyota event, Satoshi Ogiso, who used to be the chief engineer on the Prius project and is now higher up Toyota's executive tree, revealed that the company's goal with the next generation Prius is still to improve fuel economy by 10% over the previous model. This is what Toyota has done with each successive generation of its flagship hybrid, and this means that we should expect about 55 MPG combined for the fourth-generation model. Satoshi also strongly implied that the new Prius will be released in 2015, saying that there was always 6 years between each model...
Some other things we know about the upcoming Prius:
Thanks to R&D into NiMH, Li-ion batteries, solid state capacitors and lithium air, the 4th-gen will have higher-density batteries. That's not surprising, but Toyota has always been rather conservative with battery technology, being very late to the li-ion party, so it's good to hear that they won't milk the same batteries forever.
The electric motor is also getting improved. The current Prius has a motor that has 4x the power density of the first Prius, and the next one will be even smaller.
The gasoline engine in the next-generation Prius powertrain feature "thermal efficiency of greater than 40%; the thermal efficiency of the gasoline engine in the current Prius is 38.5%."
The next Prius will feature the Toyota New Global Architecture (TNGA). "It will have a lower center of gravity and increased structural rigidity. This, along with many other improvements will allow for beneficial gains in ride-and-handling, agility and aerodynamics."
The plug-in version of the Prius, which is being developped in parallel because it shares most parts with the non-pluggable Prius, will also be improved. On this, Satoshi Ogiso said:
We have been listening very carefully to Prius PHV owners and are considering their requests for additional all-electric range. We have also heard from owners that they would like a more convenient charging operation. In response, we are developing a new wireless/inductive charging system that produces resonance between an on-floor coil and an onboard coil to transmit power to the battery, providing charging without the fuss of a cable.
Aim higher, Toyota!This is all very nice, but I wish Toyota was a bit bolder. Maybe they are and just don't want to reveal anything publicly yet, but I get the feeling that they are being a little too conservative. They used to be the frontrunner when it came to greener vehicles, and they are still doing very well, but now the real action is in plug-in hybrids and 100% electric vehicles. Toyota isn't as competitive there. The Prius PHEV is great, but it's basically a regular Prius with a better battery and a plug. Toyota's RAV4 EV is great, but it's only available in California and in small numbers...
Toyota could easily be more radical, even if it just means investing more in their partnership with Tesla and producing a high-volume RAV4 EV available everywhere, or a Camry EV, or a Lexus, whatever. Incremental 10% improvements every 6 years are fine, but I'd like to see a bit more vision out of them.