Toyota gives Prius improved batteries, slows pickup push

'Automotive News' reports on Toyota's new Prius, and other model changes.

Automotive News
4 min read

Automotive News

Because its lithium ion battery technology is not yet ready for serial production, Toyota Division is moving ahead with hybrid vehicle programs with improved nickel-metal hydride battery packs.

Vehicles such as the Sienna minivan and new Venza crossover are next on the list to get hybrid installations, although Toyota has clearly stated it is emphasizing Prius as its go-to hybrid vehicle. The recent change of Toyota's Blue Springs, Miss., assembly plant from Highlander to Prius production means America will get all the Priuses it can handle.

On the "inefficient" side of the equation, truck-based SUVs are clearly out of favor at Toyota. While it was too late to cancel the 2010 4Runner, expect the FJ Cruiser to be a one-generation vehicle. The Sequoia may become little more than a niche offering. The tepid market for big pickups will slow development of variants to the Tundra full-sized pickup.

Prius: The hybrid will be redesigned in the spring of 2009 as a 2010 model. Despite earlier reports that the Prius would have several body styles, the line will be limited to one model.

The lithium ion battery pack is not ready, so Toyota will offer what it says is an improved nickel-metal hydride battery. That also means there will be no plug-in system at launch--Toyota is waiting for lithium ion to unveil plug-in technology.

The engine behind the batteries will be increased from the Yaris' 1.5-liter four-cylinder up to the Corolla's 1.8-liter engine. The car will be a half-inch longer and about an inch wider.

But, the interior upgrades buyers asked for were too expensive for the project, so it may still have a cost-down appearance inside. As exterior design goes, it's the same basic shape with crisper lines. There will be no mistaking it for anything but a Prius.

Second hybrid: The second Toyota-badged, hybrid-only vehicle that President Katsuaki Watanabe promised at the 2008 Detroit auto show was something of an overstatement. That vehicle will be for Japan only.

Yaris: A five-door hatchback arrives this summer. A redesign arrives for the 2012 model year.

Corolla: The redesign is expected for the 2013 model year.

Matrix: Because it is twinned with the Corolla, the Matrix also goes on a five-year cycle. The redesign arrives in the 2013 model year.

Camry: A freshening is planned for the 2010 model year, followed by a redesign for 2012.

Avalon: Sales of the Avalon are slowing. Toyota likely will push it to a six-year cycle, meaning a spring 2011 redesign as a 2012 model. Toyota studied dropping the Avalon name and creating a long-wheelbase Camry instead. But executives believe there is a need for a premium Toyota nameplate above the Camry.

Camry Solara: The coupe is dropped at the end of the 2008 model year, but the convertible will continue.

Sports coupe: The joint venture vehicle with Subaru is envisioned to be a rear-drive model for Toyota and possibly an all-wheel-drive vehicle for Subaru. If it comes, the soonest will be the 2012 model year.

There will be Toyota-specific sheet metal in the front and rear quarters, but the roofline is the same. Subaru will source the engine and basic platform. The two automakers are said to be fighting over interior components and cost.

Supra: The two-passenger sports car has been dropped from Toyota's production plans, a victim of high miles per gallon requirements in the United States and a slowing global economy.

RAV4: The current model is slated for a spring 2011 redesign as a 2012 model.

Highlander: Toyota is considering reviving the 2.7-liter four-cylinder version as a fuel economy play.

Venza: In terms of styling, the 2009 Venza crossover splits the difference between a Sienna and a Highlander, with a low roofline but high beltline and narrow greenhouse.

The Venza is based on the Camry platform, so it will share the 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The base engine will be a bored-out, 2.7-liter version of the Camry's 2.4-liter inline-four. Both engines will drive a six-speed automatic transmission.

Like the Camry, the Venza seats five occupants. No third-row seat will be offered. Toyota required that the vehicle be able to fit a 42-inch flat-screen TV or a mountain bike. A hybrid will come in the 2012 model year.

Tacoma: No major changes are planned. A redesign is scheduled for the 2013 model year, pushed out to an eight-year cycle. Don't expect a change to unibody, as too many Tacoma pickup owners actually use them for hard work.

Tundra: The cratering of the full-sized segment means the heavy-duty diesel version is on hold. For the 2010 model year, the base V-8 will shrink from the old 4.7-liter V-8 to a new 4.6-liter V-8 that has 30 more horsepower and about two mpg better fuel economy.

FJ Cruiser: The swooning body-on-frame SUV segment means there isn't room for the FJ and the 4Runner, so the FJ is one-and-done.

4Runner: The 4Runner will be re-engineered and restyled for the 2010 model year; lower sales volume is expected. The new 4Runner will be shown next year at the Chicago or New York auto show.

Sequoia: The 4.7-liter V-8 will be replaced with the 4.6-liter V-8 in 2010, just like the Tundra. Expect less focus on the 5.7-liter V-8.

Land Cruiser: It was redesigned for the 2008 model year; no major changes are foreseen.

Sienna: The current Sienna gets pushed out until the fall of 2009 as a 2010 model, making the current run almost a six-year cycle. The redesigned 2010 model will feature more room for third-row passengers and more cargo space, as well as a six-speed automatic transmission. A hybrid version will come for the 2012 model year.

(Source: Automotive News)