At a gathering last week in Ypsilanti, Michigan, Toyota offered a candid look at the past, present and most importantly, the future direction of its incredibly successful hybrid program with special emphasis on the next-generation Prius. This unique event, appropriately dubbed the "Toyota Hybrid World Tour 2013," also brought together virtually all of the automaker's current global hybrid models - including the stunning TS030 hybrid-powered prototype racer that finished second at Le Mans this year - as well as the very first Japanese domestic-market Prius that went on sale there in late 1997.

Offering new insight as to what we can expect of the Gen IV Prius that's likely to hit the market sometime in 2015 was Satoshi Ogiso. Currently Managing Director of Toyota Motor Corporation, in 1993 he became part of the automaker's pioneering "G21" (Global 21st Century) program that was tasked with developing a 5-passenger family car to address fuel efficiency and environmental needs of the 21st century. While holding back on a number of pertinent details for obvious competitive reasons, Ogiso did provide plenty of hard facts about the new powertrain and platform the next-generation Prius will use -- and the bounty of tangible benefits they'll provide. He also confirmed that Toyota will be introducing 15 new or significantly enhanced hybrid models globally by mid-decade.

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On the powertrain side of the equation, Ogiso noted that the upcoming Prius will incorporate a variety of advanced battery technologies and match electric motors that are smaller but more power-dense than the current ones with a new gasoline engine that will have the world's best thermal efficiency rating. In addition to being smaller, lighter and less-costly, this new-recipe hybrid package also will deliver significantly better mileage.

"The current Prius has held America's fuel economy crown for many years," said Ogiso. "In its three generations, Prius mpg has improved on average by about 10 percent, each generation. The challenge to continue to improve at this rate -- to beat your own record -- becomes very difficult, but makes it all the more motivating. We are very motivated to beat our record." If the math holds true to past form, it means the upcoming iteration of the world's best-selling hybrid model should roll onto the scene with a 55-mpg combined EPA number. Better still, the first implementation of this new hardware/software "will begin a new era for a broad range of Toyota and Lexus vehicles by marking the arrival of a substantially improved family of hybrid powertrains."

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To properly complement its all-new drivetrain elements, the next-generation Prius will transition onto a bespoke version of the Toyota New Global Architecture. Currently undergoing final development, this sophisticated new platform will endow the car with greater structural rigidity as well as a lower center of gravity, features that promise to enhance both ride and handling. Other notable changes in store for Toyota's mileage-maxing hatchback will be a roomier interior with more refined design details, new forms of advanced safety technologies and an even sleeker aerodynamic profile. All of these upgrades also will be found in its plug-in sibling that's being developed in parallel with the standard Prius. In addition to offering greater EV range, Toyota is developing a new wireless inductive charging system for the car that will begin validation testing in Japan and the U.S. next year and should be ready when the Prius plug-in goes on sale.

While the Prius was clearly the center of attention, Ogiso also touched on Toyota's plans to introduce its first commercially-available fuel-cell vehicle that it had previously announced is headed for showrooms in 2015. More details will be forthcoming this November when the automaker presents "a well-defined mid-size 4-door sedan concept" at the Tokyo Motor Show that will be a follow up to the original. However, Ogiso did point out that the car's fuel cell stack now develops 3kw per liter of density, roughly double that of the stack used in the current Highlander FCHV-adv and a number Toyota believes is the best in the world. The concept is due to make its first North American appearance next January at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas when Toyota Motor Sales president Bob Carter will address plans for its introduction in this market.

More Hybrid Cars...

The 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid goes on sale here this fall 

The Subaru XV Crosstrek will introduce a hybrid variant for 2014

Toyota and Lexus hybrid sales now top over 5 million worldwide


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