In 1997, Toyota introduced a car which was like nothing the world had seen before, the Prius. Under the shell, the Prius featured a piece of ground breaking hybrid technology which allowed a small petrol engine and electric motor to combine to power the car, saving fuel and aiding to lower CO2 emissions. Vehicles that use both an internal combustion engine and electric motor date back to before the turn of the 20th century but not on a mass-producible level. 20 years later, the hybrid technology has advanced further and the majority of brand new Toyota cars are available with hybrid engines. We take a look back 20 years to the very first Toyota Prius.
It all started in 1993 with the G21 Project. It was launched by Project General Manager Takeshi Uchiyamada and aimed to create a ‘vehicle for the 21st century’, mainly targeting dramatically improved fuel efficiency. The G21 Project initially set themselves a target of producing an engine capable of 1.5 times the fuel efficiency and performance levels of a conventional engine. In the winter of 1994, a concept vehicle had been started for the Tokyo Motor Show the following year, but after a change within TMC, it was decided a hybrid system would be created rather than a conventional engine. Toyota believed a hybrid system would be able to double the fuel efficiency of a normal engine. In the autumn of 1995, a concept vehicle had been fully completed and demonstrated at the Tokyo Motor Show.
In addition to new hybrid technology, Toyota also created an Energy Management System (EMS) which provided a range of features such as energy regeneration and stopping the engine while the vehicle wasn’t moving. All of these features helped the car reach approximately double the fuel efficiency of standard cars from the same era. A new design for the TOYOTA D-4 engine was announced also, which optimized the volume of emissions.
The world’s very first mass-produced hybrid vehicle was officially released in October 1997. The car had a driving range of 560 miles and could generate 57.6mpg with only 114g/km of Co2, and in 1998, was named Japan’s Car of the Year. By May 2000, 40,000 units had been registered in Japan and production had been increased to 3,000 per month in anticipation for foreign exports. On 17th October 2000, 3 years after its original launch, the Prius came to the UK but Toyota were unsure of the reception the hybrid would generate. Therefore, Toyota hoped to ease any concerns of battery longevity or reliability issues by introducing Europe’s first five-year mechanical warranty. In August 2003 and with over 123,000 Prius registered, production on the first generation model came to end. The Prius had become the world’s most successful hybrid vehicle.
Now in 4th generation form, the car is available as a standard hybrid and a Plug-In hybrid. The standard model can now generate 94.1 combined mpg and 70g/km combined Co2, with the Plug-In at 283mpg and 22g/km. The Prius Plug-In has recently been awarded the 2017 World Green Car Award.