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Prius: The heart and soul of Toyota Add to ...

Toyota first unveiled a family of new models that will carry the Prius name last month at the Detroit auto show, and that strategy is a key part of the company auto show efforts across North America, including at the Toronto auto show.

The idea is to establish the Prius as a brand in its own right. To do so, the Prius badge will be used on more than one car: the third-generation standard Prius, a plug-in hybrid Prius, a new Prius concept car and a larger Prius with 50 per cent more cargo room. The latter has a slightly higher roof line, with a shape similar to the company's Matrix wagon.

The smaller Prius C, about the size of Toyota's Yaris subcompact, will go on sale in early 2012, Toyota says. A plug-in Prius, whose battery can be recharged from a power outlet but which also will have a gasoline engine, is coming in 2012.

However, creating sub-brands can be tricky. Toyota's Scion line of small cars resonated with young buyers after it was introduced in the United States in 2003, but has struggled for the last few years. Scion came to Canada officially last fall and has been selling fewer than 300 cars a month ever since.

As well, no one knows how many buyers Toyota can reel in with additional Prius vehicles. Numerous studies show that mainstream buyers usually want to buy a vehicle that is as clean and fuel-efficient as possible, though only a very small percentage are willing to pay any notable price premium for going "green."

The wild card is fuel prices. A number of car companies, including Toyota, expect pump prices to rise significantly in the near future and certainly by 2020 when U.S. sales officials believe the Prius hatchback's successor will be the country's best-selling car.

As one U.S. official put it at the Detroit auto show, "At $4 a gallon, we'll be selling every single one that we build."

Toyota Prius C

What is it? A concept vehicle designed to express what the smallest Prius family member might look like. The car looks a bit like the Toyota Yaris, but with a Prius' trapezoidal front and silhouette.

The nuts and bolts: Toyota officials have said that the production version of the Prius C would employ Toyota's existing Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The goal is to make sure the Prius C has the best fuel economy of any conventional hybrid, an honour that currently belongs to the Prius hatchback.

When? Look for the Prius C in the first half of 2012. It will surely be the least-expensive hybrid on the market.

2012 Toyota Prius v

What is it? A small crossover or wagon version of the current Prius hatchback. The Prius v will ride on the basic Prius platform, have seating for five and is due late this summer.

What Toyota says: "The Prius v will deliver the best fuel efficiency of any SUV, crossover or wagon in the market today, and a 66 per cent reduction in smog-forming emissions compared to the average new vehicle. Its versatile interior seats five adults comfortably, with sliding second-row seats that recline up to 45 degrees. At the same time, a fold-flat front passenger seat and 60/40 split folding rear seat make it easy to convert Prius v into a cargo hauler, with up to 971 L of space for stuff."

Is it real? Without a doubt. And more Prius models are coming in small, medium and larger versions.

Nuts and bolts: The Prius v shares the Prius's Hybrid Synergy Drive system and it keeps the nickel-metal hydride battery. It has 134 total horsepower and uses pretty much the same 1.8-litre gas engine that's in the regular Prius.

How much? Toyota isn't saying, but look for a base sticker price in the low $30,000s.

With its recall woes in the past, the vindicated Japanese auto maker moves forward with big plans for the Prius


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