Since it was launched in India in 2010, a mere 167 units of the Toyota Prius have been sold in the country. One might wonder why the planet’s favourite hybrid found so few takers in India? One of the reasons was high sticker price. The Prius was launched for a hefty Rs 26.55 lakh in 2010; a new version retailed for Rs 27.39 lakh in 2012; and by the time Toyota stopped importing it this year, prices touched close to Rs 38 lakh.
Another reason was Toyota started focusing more on the Camry Hybrid. Unlike the Prius which was a CBU, thus attracting high import duty, the Camry Hybrid is made in India, and because it is a made-in-India hybrid, it qualifies for benefits under the government’s FAME (Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of Hybrid & Electric Vehicles) Scheme. The Camry Hybrid is also a bigger, more luxurious car than the Prius.
In January 2017, Toyota plans to launch the all-new Prius in India; we briefly drive it in Delhi.
The Prius doesn’t need detailed introduction—it is the first mass-production hybrid vehicle in the world. “Prius” is a Latin word—it means “coming before”. The name was perhaps chosen because the Prius was launched “before” environmental awareness became a mainstream social issue, i.e. it went on sale a day before the Kyoto Protocol was adopted on December 11, 1997.
In about 19 years, over 5.7 million Prius hybrid family vehicles have been sold globally.
So, what is a hybrid? These are vehicles that use both an electric motor and internal-combustion engine to power the wheels. The electric motor gets its energy from a battery pack installed under the body, and the engine gets its energy from the fuel. The engine, while powering the wheels, charges the battery. The battery also gets charged when you press the brakes. Hybrid vehicles have numerous other fuel-saving and power-enhancing technologies.
The new Prius doesn’t look like a traditional car—its sleek shape has been engineered to cheat the wind. The air-intake grille is tiny—its engine cooling requirements are low. The snaking, extended tail-lamps are straight from an art gallery.
The cabin has few controls, and a lot of gimmickry. There’s a tiny gear lever on the centre console, a bright LCD screen above it, and an information display on top. A futuristic, hybridy kind of head-up display, which projects driving information on the lower windshield glass directly in front of the driver, minimises eye movement.
While the car doesn’t look big on the outside, there’s decent cabin space. The battery has been moved from the cargo area to beneath the back seat, ensuring more flexibility in the luggage area.
Power is supplied by a 1.8-litre petrol engine and an electric motor. The drive, as expected, is unlike most cars. The experience begins right from the time you step inside. From standstill until you “slowly” reach about 40kph, there is absolutely no sound from the car—the reason, it runs exclusively on the electric motor (the noiselessness takes some getting used to). Press the accelerator hard and the petrol engine comes to life and, with the already running electric motor, gives you the performance of a 2.4-litre class car, even though it is a 1.8-litre engine. The maximum torque it develops is 142Nm. Press the brakes and the regenerative braking system takes over, turning the car’s kinetic energy into electric energy, charging the battery. All this gimmickry gets displayed in real time on the central information display.
Like the previous version, the new Prius will also be a CBU import. Toyota has no plans, as of now, to manufacture it locally, so expect a starting price of over Rs 40 lakh. We wonder how many buyers will shell out that kind of money for a futuristic design, modern technology and clean air?