This year marks a major milestone for the world’s most popular hybrid. Toyota has offered the Prius in North America for a decade now, where it remains the top selling hybrid on the market.
Since its launch in Japan back in 1997, the Toyota Prius has sold more than 1.8 million units. About half of those sales were attributed to car buyers in the U.S.
“Toyota recognized in the 1990s that sustainable transportation would become a huge challenge in the coming decades,” said Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc. “Those realizations proved accurate, and if anything, even more profound considering what we know today.”
Plenty has changed in the past decade. The Prius started out as a gawky and somewhat awkward-looking sedan that didn’t quite deliver the fuel-economy that many consumers were looking for. The second-generation Prius brought the teardrop-shaped, hatchback body-style that has since become synonymous with the model. It was followed by the current third-gen Prius which featured improved performance and fuel-efficiency compared to the previous iteration.
Soon the Prius will have a new model, a plug-in hybrid version with lithium ion batteries. The model is already being tested in fleet applications and will see full production in 2012.
Prius Timeline: Significant Dates and Milestones
1990: Meetings begin concept work on Project G21, “a car for the 21st Century”, in Toyota City and Higashifugi Technical Center. Fuel economy target was 20 kilometers per liter, about 50% better than other passenger cars of the time.
1994 (January): Project team addresses drivetrain, chassis and packaging decisions. The team was granted the right to develop new parts from scratch “if necessary.”
1994 (July): G21 Project, Phase III begins, accelerating development for production of the Prius parallel to development of Toyota’s experimental hybrid system.
1995 (June): Toyota Hybrid System approved and code-named 890T.
1995 (October): Hybrid concept Prius displayed at Tokyo Motor Show with propulsion system described as Toyota-EMS (“Energy Management System”).
1996 (December): Anticipating the future EV and hybrid vehicle market, Panasonic EV Energy was established as a joint venture between Matsushita and Toyota.
1997 (December): Gen 1 Prius launched in Japan after a final design period of 17 months. Wins Japan Car of the Year award and Global Climate Protection Award from the U.S. EPA, among other accolades.
1998: Announced in July that Toyota would export 20,000 units annually to North America and Europe.
2000: Post-Prius era of automotive history begins. From this time on, the concept of environmental performance begins to take root, and all economy cars would be compared to the Prius.
2003: Prius sales hit 24,000 units, double the number originally planned.
2004: Second generation Prius launched, called “Car of the Year” by Motor Trend Magazine.
2007: Total U.S. Prius sales reach 500,000 units since it first launched in July 2000.
2008: National average gas prices hit $4.09 per gallon on July 7.
2009: Third generation Prius launched as 2010 model with larger 1.8-liter engine, 0.25 coefficient of drag and 51 mpg City.
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