Previewing a possible new addition to its Prius line, Toyota presented the FT-CH, a dedicated "Compact Hybrid" concept that it claims "captures the spirit and functionality of a car that thrives in the inner-city environment; sized right to be nimble, responsive and maneuverable." In broader terms, Toyota Motor Sales president Jim Lentz confirmed that it's one alternative being considered to help fill out the Prius family "marketing strategy" currently being developed for North America. According to Lentz, the FT-CH is exactly the kind of package that both Toyota customers and dealers have been asking for.
Styled at Toyota's European Design and Development (ED2) center in Nice, France, the FT-CH's designers used '80s-era 8-bit computer technology as an inspiration in creating its unique take on neo-retro character that matches vivid color, distinctive surface contouring and some very intriguing approached to integrating head and taillamps. Exterior visuals aside, the FR-CH is some 22 inches shorter than the Gen III Prius but less than an inch narrower. The passenger cabin, which offers an impressive amount of usable interior space for people and cargo, complements the FT-CH's exterior with a similarly inventive approach that brings together Toyota's latest thinking on digital displays and multi-function controllers with four individual seats rendered in a minimalist mesh-over-frame motif.
While providing no mechanical or electrical specifics on this possible future iteration of its Hybrid Synergy Drive package, Toyota did indicate that the FT-CH's reduced scale makes it significantly lighter and even more fuel efficient than the current Prius. Add in its more overtly youthful persona and a projected lower price point, and any production version of the FT-CH would also take dead aim at a demographic segment Toyota is definitely hoping to cultivate.
As part of the Detroit presentation, Toyota reiterated its intent to sell a million hybrids annually worldwide in the early 2010s -- the majority of them here in America. To realize that goal, the automaker will launch eight all-new hybrids over the next several years, vehicles it stressed will not just be next-gen revamps of existing hybrids, but new dedicated hybrid vehicles such as the FT-CH or hybrid versions of models that currently only offer conventional gasoline engines. Toyota also confirmed that it's accelerating ongoing development programs with plug-in hybrids, battery-electric vehicles and Fuel Cell Hybrids, as well as stepping up work with advanced battery technology that extends "beyond lithium." The first of its new BEV to reach production status will be a small, urban commuter powered by a lithium-ion battery and due for the 2012 model year.