Ok, let’s immediately deal with the elephant in the room. The Toyota Prius Prime is not an attractive vehicle. In fact, to my eyes, it’s quite homely. Now that we have that out of the way, I’ll leave the aesthetic judgements to your own tastes and move on to how Toyota’s sophomore effort at a plug-in version of its icon works. While the first-generation Prius PHV was a bit of a swing and a miss, the functionality this time is in most respects a home run.
It’s not often that a single automotive nameplate becomes virtually synonymous with a powertrain technology. Yet over the course of almost two decades, that’s exactly what has happened with the Toyota Prius. When you think hybrid electric, Prius is likely the first and probably only name that comes to mind. Late 2015 brought us an all-new fourth-generation Prius with some of the most substantial changes to date and I finally got an opportunity to drive it recently.
The idea of the off-road vehicle is by no means new, but it used to be that people that wanted to go bouncing around in sand dunes, crawling through canyons or racing through the desert would basically have to build their own. Aside from the Jeep Wrangler and its predecessors, almost no factory-built truck had real serious off-road capability. However, in the past decade we’ve seen automakers go from building hot-rod trucks like the Chevy Syclone, Ford F-150 Lightning and Dodge Ram SRT-10 to more serious off-roaders like the F-150 SVT Raptor and this Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road.
Compared to the rest of the world, the American automotive market is an anomaly in ways. No where else will you find fullsize pickup trucks selling in such enormous numbers with the big trucks from Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler being the perennial best-sellers for years on end. Move beyond our borders however, and so-called C-segment or compact cars dominate the market. For nearly five decades one of the continuous top-sellers in that space has been the Toyota Corolla in all its different flavors. While Corolla buyers elsewhere get to choose from a variety of body styles, Americans are limited to a four-door sedan unless they opt for the related Scion iM hatchback.
The American light vehicle market is a unique beast in the world. Nowhere else on the planet will you find so many full-size pickup trucks in use and representing such a large proportion of total vehicle sales. Through October, 2015, Americans bought 1.78 million fullsize trucks, 12.3 percent of the year-to-date total. It’s also the only market segment where the three Detroit based automakers have remained utterly dominant despite challenges from Japan. As the world’s largest automaker, Toyota looked at the profit margins that Ford, GM and Chrysler were pulling in on those trucks and it’s been trying to capture a piece of that pie for more than two decades with surprisingly limited success. In 2013, Toyota gave the Tundra pickup a major makeover and it’s better than ever – but is it good enough?
Late last night in Las Vegas, Toyota revealed the new fourth-generation of the world’s best selling hybrid, the Prius. Eighteen years after the debut of the original, the Prius has become an automotive icon with a distinctive look that has become synonymous with battery-assisted cars. Images of the of the new Prius have been leaking out for weeks and by time Toyota revealed the car it was no longer a surprise. All that was really left to reveal were the technical details, but unfortunately those have been kept to a bare minimum other than the news that it will offer a 10 percent boost in fuel efficiency.
At a press conference in Palo Alto, California today, Toyota announced a new collaborative research program that will focus on development of artificial intelligence and automation control systems. Under the auspices of Toyota’s Collaborative Safety Research Center (CSRC), the $50 million development program will pull in researchers from Toyota, Stanford University and MIT to help develop the systems that will be required to power increasingly autonomous cars. The effort will be led by Dr. Gill Pratt who is joining Toyota as an executive technical advisor. Pratt previously served as the program manager for the DARPA robotics challenge which brought the world the “big dog” robot from Boston Dynamics.
The second of two new cars coming from Toyota’s entry-level Scion division this fall is the iM, a compact five-door hatchback that has the likes of the Ford Focus and Volkswagen Golf in its sights. For those that pay attention to Toyota’s European lineup, the iM will be familiar since it’s essentially a rebadged Auris. The iM effectively replaces Scion’s now defunct cube car the xB in the lineup, but the question is can it move the needle on the segment?
A dozen years after Toyota launched the Scion brand as a way to attract younger customers into the fold, the world’s largest automaker is hitting the reboot switch. After some initial success with the first-generation xA and xB, the second-generation xB and the xD that replaced the xA never really caught fire with consumers. While the tC coupe and the FR-S have done reasonably well for their segments, Scion is about two launch two new bread and butter models, the C-segment iM and the B-segment iA which I’ll discuss here.
Over the years certain brands of cars have become inexorably associated with colors. Regardless of what is sprayed on in the paint shop, a Ferrari is always a deep scarlet red at heart. Anything built on the north side of the English Channel should be a dark green. High performance cars wearing a three-pointed star or four rings are silver arrows. The Toyota Camry? Beige through and through.
Beige is not an offensive hue. Quite the opposite in fact, it may well be the best camouflage color in the known universe. Instead of garish swirlies that are guaranteed to attract attention, automakers should just paint all their prototypes beige and spy photographers would never even see them.