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2012 Toyota Prius c (Bill Petro/Toyota)
2012 Toyota Prius c (Bill Petro/Toyota)

DRIVING IT HOME

Toyota pushes hybrid sales to retake ‘green’ auto crown Add to ...

Toyota has just announced that sales of its Canadian Prius hybrid lineup came to 1,033 in June, with the tiny Prius c accounting for about one-quarter of that (272). Hybrids overall? At Toyota they represented 8.7 per cent or 1,657 of all Toyota Canada’s sales in June.

The numbers here and around the world suggest Toyota is committed to a hybrid sales push on a global scale.

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Why? For a while Toyota owned the “green” space in the auto industry, but no longer. The competition, not willing to let Toyota retain the Earth-friendly auto maker crown, is aggressively moving into the “green” space.

Thus, Nissan has launched the all-electric LEAF, Mitsubishi has the i-MiEV battery car, Ford has the Focus EV and the Transit Connect EV, Chevrolet has the Volt extended range EV and any number of car companies are selling very good hybrids: Kia, Hyundai, Ford, General Motors, Honda and on and on, including Toyota. Hyundai claims to have the most fuel efficient car fleet overall, Ford is touting “Drive Green” as a core value, the 2013 Nissan Altima is the most fuel efficient non-EV in Nissan Canada’s lineup and the list goes on and on.

Toyota, bureaucratic and cautious as a former loom company can be, looks energized and aggressive these days, however – scores of pending unintended acceleration lawsuits notwithstanding. The Prius push points to that. Nonetheless, Toyota has slightly different hybrid and EV plans depending on the region.

Here in Canada we get the basic Prius, the Prius v wagon, the Prius c subcompact and the coming Prius Plug-in Hybrid. Japan also gets the c, though there it’s called the Aqua, despite the fact that both cars are identical and share the same Yaris platform. But in Europe, if you want a Prius c-sized hybrid, just-auto.com reports that you must get either an Auris or Yaris hybrid derivative assembled in Europe. The Prius Plug-in is for Europe, like Canada and the U.S. Apparently that’s a car fit for a prince – Prince Albert of Monaco, to be precise.

But in Europe the Prius v is sold as a seven-seat wagon or compact multi-purpose vehicle, rather than the five-seater sold in Canada and the U.S. As just-auto.com reports, Europeans prefer compact multi-purpose vehicles with seven seats.

To create space for the third row, Toyota moved the lithium-ion battery to the centre console. Yes, you read that correctly: the Europeans get the smaller, more up-to-date lithium-ion battery versus the cheaper nickel-metal hydride battery.

“In Japan, both configurations are available (and called alpha), the lithium-ion battery fitted seven-seater being considerably more expensive than the five-seater,” says just-auto.com.

So the Europeans get the more modern seven-seat hybrid and we don’t. Perhaps that’s because so few buyers want it, even in Europe. Reports from just-auto.com say Toyota hopes to sell 20,000 Prius+ wagons annually in all of Europe, a new car market traditionally about the size of the United States.

And Canada? Here, Toyota is on pace to sell 20,000 hybrids in 2012. If there were a seven-seater Prius, could Toyota Canada sell even more hybrids?

globedrive@globeandmail.com

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