Plug-in Hybrid Concept Outside of the Prius FamilyThe Prius was a big hit for Toyota, giving it a technological leadership position back when most of its competitors only cared about big SUVs. But a lot of time has passed since then, and everybody and their dogs is coming out with fuel efficient small cars and hybrids. Can Toyota leapfrog the competition once again, or are they resting on their laurels? I wish they would try to outdo their Japanese brethren at Nissan and go straight for mass-market 100% electric cars (maybe with some help from their partners at Tesla Motors), but they seem to be hedging their bets by working on both fully electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Their latest concept, the NS4 unveiled at the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, falls in the latter category.
Toyota describes the NS4 mid-size concept car as "Toyota’s vision for future mobility with a focus on connectivity and the human interface." They put a lot of emphasis on "connectivity":
Traditional vehicle development cycles average four years, but this is rapidly changing in the digital age. Vehicles have become another communication hub in the connected-consumers lifestyle and automakers must integrate the latest technologies into their product offerings. In fact, connected vehicles are the third-fastest growing technological device, behind smartphones and tablets.
Toyota has formed special alliances with technology leaders such as Microsoft, Intel and Salesforce to explore the creation of seamless vehicle interfaces with emerging technologies. These alliances will help ensure Toyota is at the forefront of this emerging sector of the automotive market.
The NS4 concept’s Human-Machine Interface (HMI) provides a user interface built around a multi-touch screen with the look and feel of a smartphone. The simple, intuitive operation conveys information quickly while minimizing distractions and maximizing driver awareness. The multimedia and vehicle-controls enhancement also will direct air conditioning, audio, battery-charge and navigation functions. The HMI system is even capable of “learning” driver preferences and habits to anticipate driver responses in specific environments and situations. This concept represents a truly connected vehicle, offering the latest technology in a responsible and convenient package.
As far as I can tell based on the little technical information that Toyota has released about the NS4's hybrid drivetrain, it would be based on a next generation version of the current Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD) that powers Toyota's numerous hybrids. Chances are, it would be very similar to what will be used in the Plug-in Prius which is planned for 2012, which they expect will get a 87 MPGe fuel economy rating (though real-world fuel economy will depend a lot on driving patterns -- short trips that can be made on electricity only will be the most efficient).
As with most concept cars, the production version will probably be less angular and de-blinged. But we'll have to wait and see. Hopefully by then they decide to do a 100% electric version.
More from the 2012 Detroit Auto Show.