Toyota unveils new generation of Prius hybrid

Toyota Motor Corp. is looking to keep the Prius in its spot as the top-selling hybrid in the U.S. with a bigger, more fuel-efficient model.

Toyota Motor Corp. is looking to keep the Prius in its spot as the top-selling hybrid in the U.S. with a bigger, more fuel-efficient model.

The highly anticipated 2010 Prius, unveiled Monday at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, has an estimated average fuel consumption of 3.8 L/100 km. That's a 0.3 L/100 km improvement over the current model, which already is the most fuel-efficient vehicle ranked by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"It's a core model for us," Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said in an interview before the Prius' unveiling. "It's a very, very important piece for us."

The car still isn't Toyota Canada's most popular hybrid — that distinction goes to the Camry hybrid. But Canadian Prius sales have shot up 72 per cent in 2008 compared to the previous year, and the company clearly has big plans for the model.

"With the new Prius, we are pushing the envelope of what's possible on four wheels, and offering Canadians a new way to join the sustainable transportation revolution," Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada Inc., said in a Monday statement. The third generation gas-electric Prius has a more aerodynamic design, but its exterior is easily recognizable as a Prius. Toyota says pricing will be released before the midsize sedan goes on sale in late spring, but is expected to hover around the current Canadian Prius price of $27,400.

The new Prius is getting larger and more powerful 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine. Toyota says the bigger engine helps improve fuel economy on the highway.

The optional solar-powered ventilation system uses an electrically powered air circulation fan that doesn't need the engine to work. It prevents the interior air temperature from rising while the vehicle is parked.

The ventilation system can be remotely operated, so drivers can adjust the interior temperature before getting inside. Toyota says this remote air conditioning system is an industry first.

Auto show puts spotlight on efficiency

Automakers are using the Detroit auto show to spotlight more fuel-efficient vehicles. The new Prius debuted a day after Honda unveiled its next-generation hybrid, the 2010 Insight, which will arrive in U.S. showrooms this April and is expected to compete head-on with the Prius.

Lentz said he expects the Insight will appeal to buyers focused on its low price, but Prius will draw drivers looking for a slightly larger vehicle and Toyota's technology.

On Sunday, Toyota's Lexus luxury arm unveiled a new hybrid sedan called the HS250h, and Ford Motor Co. showed off the 2010 Fusion Hybrid that has a fuel consumption 6.5 L/100 km in the city and 5.7 L/100 km on highways. The Fusion was unveiled in November and goes on sale this spring.

The debuts come as hybrid sales have tumbled in the United States. Gas-electric cars sold briskly as gas prices peaked last summer but have since come down sharply as fuel prices collapsed to their lowest levels in six years.

Last month, Toyota said it was shelving its plans to build the Prius in Mississippi amid the industry-wide downturn. Toyota's plant under construction in Blue Springs, Miss., was scheduled to begin production in 2010, marking the first time the Prius would be built outside of Japan and China.

Toyota had invested $300 million in the plant before saying it was delaying production there indefinitely.