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Toyota Prius
Auto Africa preview

Broadcast dates : 24th October  2004
28th October 2004


Toyota’s research indicates that today there some 740 million cars on Planet Earth.

That’s a mind-boggling figure, but even more astounding is a projection that by the year 2020 the number is likely to almost double, to 1,2 billion.

As much as we love cars and the freedom of expression and mobility that they offer, no-one can ignore the impact on the environment.

Motor manufacturers all over the world are developing alternate power sources to minimize air pollution, but right now, it has to be said that Toyota is ahead of the pack.

The Toyota Prius is a fully-fledged production vehicle, using a hybrid combination of electric and petrol power. In fact the Prius has been in series production since 1997.

Launched in America last year, this latest-generation Prius was named as Car of the Year in North America for 2004. And it has become the car of choice for many American celebrities, including our own Charlize Theron, while Leonardo DiCaprio owns no less than three Prius cars.

Early in 2005 it will go on sale at selected Toyota show rooms around South Africa.

The Prius will not be cheap, and one should expect the car to sell in the R300 000 range.
At that price Toyota is no expecting to sell thousands of Priuses each month, but management feels there is enough demand amongst intellectuals and environmentally aware people to make a significant impact with the car.

Visually the Prius is one of the most exciting cars to come out of the Toyota stable in recent years.

It has a dramatic sloping roof-line that nevertheless provides adequate space for five adults.

And despite the large battery located in the rear of the car there is over 400 litres of luggage capacity’

What’s more the Prius has a full compliment of safety equipment including front, side and curtain airbags, as well as all modern luxury features .

A talking point will be the central display console which provides a seven centimeter touch screen, enabling audio, climate control and a display monitoring the switch between electric and petrol engines and the charging of the battery.

The engine packaging is what makes the Prius so viable as a productionised low pollution car of the future.

The petrol and electric engines are located side by side in the front engine bay and linked using a combination of electronics and mechanical systems.

Both engines provide drive through the front wheels and can operate independently of one another or in concert

So, what’s it like to drive? The answer is "quite different."

The system the Prius uses is called hybrid synergy drive.

The start-up procedure is very different from a normal car, and the operation in electric mode is almost completely silent.

The driver uses the electric gearlever switch to select either neutral, reverse or drive and there is an additional position on the lever for re-generative braking.

This is selected when descending hills so that the electric motor converts to a large battery charger to provide additional charging to the battery.

There is also an "electric only switch located next to the steering column and this is used when a driver is in heavy stop-start traffic or underground parking lots, where a zero-emissions state is required.

There is no clutch lever. The driver simply depresses the electronic accelerator pedal and the car moves forward.

There are also no gear changes to concern the driver of a Prius. The transmission is of the CVT or constantly variable type. This uses a cone and belt system to constantly vary the transmission ratio so that the petrol engine is always operating in its maximum torque band

It uses its electric engine as a primary source of power, but switches seamlessly to petrol propulsion when extra acceleration is needed.

Toyota claim overall fuel consumption of just over four litres per hundred kilometers for the car, with as little as three litres per hundred kilometers used by the high torque, low-revving 1,5 litre petrol engine.

Another plus with this system is that there is no need to charge the battery from a wall outlet. Charging of the hi-tech battery is carried out using regenerative braking and the petrol engine to recharge the battery while the car is on the move.

With both petrol and engine engaged through the common transmission, the car can accelerate to 100 km/h from standstill in 11 seconds, and run on to a top speed of over 170 km/h.

So the common image some of us have of electric cars behaving like milk trolleys or forklifts certainly doesn’t apply to the Toyota Prius.

With fully-fledged fuel cell technology, which will provide pollution-free driving, still a long way in the future hybrids like the Prius make a lot of sense.

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