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Toyota Set to Unveil All-New Prius

New model expected to be larger, more sophisticated, more fuel-efficient.

by on Aug.19, 2015

It's unclear what Toyota has in mind for the next-gen plug-in version of the Prius.

What goes up must come down, something even the world’s most popular hybrid-electric vehicle has experienced in recent months. So, Toyota officials have reason to be excited as they get ready to reveal an all-new version of the Prius next month.

Like virtually all battery-based vehicles, sales of the Prius has been hit by low gas prices in recent months, but it remains the world’s most popular hybrid – and one of the best sellers among all vehicles in the big California market.

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The Toyota Prius hasn’t had a major update in seven years, and early reports suggest the new one will grow longer, get a little more power, improve fuel economy and possible stretch its range in all-electric mode. Some reports indicate an optional lithium-ion battery may also become available on the 2016 Prius.

Toyota has sent out invitations for journalists to attend a preview of the fourth-generation in Las Vegas on September eighth. The current model has been around since 2009, an unusually long stretch for Toyota.

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The Prius was the world’s first mass market hybrid when it debuted in Japan on December 10, 1997. It took three years for the compact vehicle to make it to the U.S. market where it landed in showrooms shortly after the arrival of the original Honda Insight. Less radical than the competing two-seater, the Prius immediately found a much wider audience that it has continued to maintain around the world.

Toyota is expected to boost power, as well as mileage, with the updated Hybrid Synergy Drive.

At times, the Prius has become the best-selling vehicle of all types in both Japan and in the green-minded California market. And industry sales data show it snapped up 82% of the U.S. hybrid segment’s sales during the first seven months of 2015. But demand has taken a rare dip, nonetheless, Prius sales falling 15% during that period, year-over-year.

Sales numbers for the Prius actually include a mix of vehicles in the so-called Prius “family,” including a plug-in hybrid, the bigger Prius V and the subcompact Prius C.

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As with the rest of the green car market, the Prius has been hit by cheap gasoline in recent months, consumers shifting to larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, especially SUVs, crossovers and pickups.

Toyota is hoping that the new model will give the Prius nameplate a recharge, among other things by boosting fuel efficiency by as much as 10%, to a reported 55 miles per gallon.

The 2016 hybrid will get an updated version of the familiar Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive system, and insiders say that is likely to include a larger, 1.8-liter gasoline engine that will bump power up from 134 to 150 horsepower. The new model will continue to link that engine and two electric motors through a CVT gearbox.

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The new 2016 Toyota Prius is expected to be slightly larger – in keeping with broader industry trends. And it will pick up on the mandate of CEO Akio Toyoda, who has called on his designers to put more “passion” in Toyota designs. New LED head and taillamps are likely. To maximize range, Toyota is likely to reveal it has adopted new lightweight manufacturing techniques, including the use of more advanced steel alloys, aluminum, perhaps even some composite materials.

Meanwhile, the Prius is expected to get a more refined and well-executed interior, a move meant to address one of the most frequent criticisms of the hybrid. There will almost certainly be more technology, including an improved infotainment system and, possibly, a wireless cellphone charger.

There have been some reports suggesting Toyota may offer an optional lithium-ion battery pack as an upgrade that might boost fuel economy and all-electric range. Toyota has been doggedly sticking with older nickel-metal hydride batteries which it considers safer and more reliable. So, such reports are far from certain.

Until now, lithium batteries have only been offered in the slow-selling Prius Plug-in Hybrid, recently pulled from U.S. showrooms. Whether that model will return, and with what sort of changes, may be revealed in Las Vegas next month.

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