At the Detroit auto show in January, we’ll see the third generation of the now one-million-plus-selling Prius, which will still use a nickel-metal-hydride battery pack. A more expensive version, with a lithium-ion battery pack, arrives a year later, and Toyota already has announced that it will offer solar panels on the car’s roof. In 2011, a plug-in model becomes available. Don’t look for a big design change for the new Prius, as Toyota is sticking with the peaked roof and hatchback layout, a unique design that broadcasts the driver’s green credentials. Another reason to preserve the shape is that the Japanese believe the Prius has Porsche 911-like icon potential.
What remains to be seen is how Toyota will incorporate the Prius look into two additional variants, a five-seat crossover due in 2010 and a seven-seater planned for 2011. Toyota will hybridize many more models, including the Sienna minivan, the new Venza crossover, the Corolla (all by 2012), and the next-generation RAV4 (2013). In fact, by 2020, all Toyota models are scheduled to be available in hybrid form.
At this month’s Los Angeles auto show, we expect Lexus to unveil the next-generation RX450h, which likely will be sleeker and roomier but also lighter and better to drive than the current high-luxe crossover hybrid. The big news in Lexus hybrids, however, happens in Detroit, where the brand will reveal its first dedicated hybrid model, one that will emphasize fuel economy rather than performance. The small four-door hatchback will use a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine instead of a V-6. The design is said to be derived from the Toyota Hybrid X show car.
The 2000 Honda Insight was the first hybrid sold in America, but the tiny two-seater, which ended production in 2006, never caught on with the public when it was new. Now, though, used Insights are hot commodities, with values jumping and even dedicated Insight resellers emerging. So Honda will capitalize on the renewed value of the Insight name by using it for the company’s new, hybrid-only Prius-fighter, which premiered at the Paris show and will go on sale in April ’09. Honda plans to fill 100,000 North American orders annually. The four-door hatchback will be smaller than the Civic and less expensive than the Civic Hybrid (which costs $24,220 and will continue to be built) and the $22,720 Toyota Prius.
Honda also is working on a second dedicated hybrid model, a sporty two-seat (or possibly two-plus-two) hatch that revives the spirit of the Honda CRX. Previewed last year by the CR-Z show car, this hybrid funster is expected to go on sale as a 2011 model. Finally, Honda is working on a hybrid version of its wildly popular entry-level Fit, which would join the family in 2011 or 2012.
Infiniti arrives at the hybrid party in 2010 with a new, Nissan-developed system comprised of a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, an electric motor, an automatic transmission, and lithium-ion batteries. This arrangement provides electric-only propulsion to speeds exceeding 60 mph, according to Nissan. The plan is to fit this hybrid powertrain into an existing Infiniti-we’re guessing the rear-wheel-drive G sedan-to achieve 1.6-liter Versa-like mileage figures at a cost premium of less than $5000.
The two-mode hybrid system currently offered in GM’s large SUVs expands into Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra crew-cab pickups in 2009. As in the SUVs, the pickups’ V-8 hybrid powertrain will be offered with 2WD or 4WD. The Saturn VUE two-mode hybrid, which uses a 3.6-liter V-6, is due by the end of this year. It will be available only with front-wheel drive, and it should provide a 50-percent boost in fuel economy over a standard V-6 Vue. The two-mode hybrid will be sold alongside the current four-cylinder Vue hybrid.Come 2010, GM should start rolling out its plug-in hybrids. First, we’ll see a plug-in version of the Vue two-mode (which will be the third Vue hybrid model), followed by the company’s Great Green Hope, the Chevy Volt. In total, GM is promising twenty hybrid models by 2012.
Like General Motors, with whom it shares two-mode hybrid technology, Chrysler now has large hybrid SUVs (the Hemi-powered Dodge Durango/Chrysler Aspen). Next, the company will offer the technology in the new Dodge Ram pickup.
German carmakers were long dismissive of hybrids-favoring diesels instead-but they’ve come to see them as part of a portfolio of green solutions. Next year, BMW will make its first foray into hybrid powertrains, in the X6. The X6 Active Hybrid promises a twenty-percent improvement in fuel economy.
Mercedes-Benz will bring out two hybrids in late 2009. The ML450 BlueHybrid is a two-mode that can run at low speeds using only electric propulsion, whereas the S400 BlueHybrid uses its electric motor as an auxiliary power source but still promises fuel economy of nearly 30 mpg. Although Bluetec refers to Mercedes-Benz’s new diesel technology, these hybrids both will use a 3.5-liter gasoline V-6. The company also has shown a diesel-powered hybrid, the Vision GLK Bluetec Hybrid, which is currently just a show car, although Mercedes describes it as “near production-ready.”