Future Toyota Hybrids: Prius Times Three

For the first time in its career, the Prius needs a gentle marketing push--incentives, in other words--to keep its sales momentum. Despite the small dip in demand, however, there's no doubt that hybrids are here to stay. In Geneva, Toyota displayed its Hybrid X concept, which has been misinterpreted by some as the next-generation Prius. It isn't. Instead, three new hybrid Toyotas--known internally as Prius A, B, and C--are expected to debut in 2009, 2010, and 2011. The explanation for the change-up? According to a source at the company, all future Toyota hybrids will bear the Prius nameplate. The three letters denote the three vehicle sizes--smaller than the current Prius, roughly the same size as today's Prius, and bigger than the Prius. All three will be uniquely styled and will bear no resemblance to conventional Toyotas. (This effectively means that after its current model cycle, the Camry Hybrid will cease to exist.) The new shapes will be stylish and spacious; they'll stand out from the mainstream but won't be as controversial and odd-looking as the first- and second-generation Priuses.

While all three new models will be space-efficient, they won't be wagons or vans. The challenge for Toyota's engineering and design teams lies in striking a balance that leaves enough underfloor space for batteries while creating a roomy cabin with comfortable seating for five and a large luggage compartment.

Sizewise, the next generation of Priuses will mimic Toyota's existing lineup. The Prius A is marked to be Yaris-sized, the Prius B will be slightly larger than the current Prius but less unconventional and more practical inside, and the Prius C is targeted to be slightly smaller than today's Camry. (The C, incidentally, will borrow its design language and inspiration from the Hybrid X--but it also will be roomier, taller, and more traditionally attractive.)

Will three Toyota hybrid models play in Peoria? We'll have to wait and see.

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