In 1995, the first Prius prototype refused to move, baffling the project team and Takeshi Uchiyamada – who is now Toyota’s chairman. He recalls: “We had no idea what was wrong, so we worked late every night to figure it out. We finally got it to move around Christmas time, but even then it only went 500 metres.”
At that time, hybrid cars were unproven, experimental machines with a very uncertain future.
Fast-forward 20 years and Toyota is proud to announce that it has now sold more than eight million hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Such is the growth rate of hybrid’s popularity, it is only 10 months since the milestone of seven million sales was passed.
To put the impact of eight million hybrids on people and the environment into context, Toyota calculates that as of 31 July, its hybrid vehicles have resulted in savings of around 58 million tons of CO2 emissions, compared to the performance of the same number of equivalent, petrol-powered vehicles. It also estimates that its hybrids have saved 22 million kilolitres of fuel, compared to the amount used by petrol vehicles of the same size.
The message is clear: having found homes in driveways around the world, hybrids have staying power. Since launching Prius in 1997 (from 2000 in the UK), Toyota has been gradually adding models to its range, from the Yaris Hybrid supermini to the recently announced RAV4 Hybrid. Since 2010 the line-up has included the British-built Auris Hybrid, Europe’s best-selling hybrid model.
As of this month, Toyota sells 30 different hybrid passenger cars (including Lexus models) in more than 90 markets around the world.
In the UK the line-up comprises the Toyota Prius, the seven-seat Prius+, Prius Plug-in, Yaris Hybrid and Auris and Auris Touring Sports Hybrid, together with the Lexus CT 200h, IS 300h, NX 300h, GS 300h and 450h, RX 450h and LS 600hL.
Hybrid remains Toyota’s core technology in its development of alternative powertrains, notably in Mirai, the world’s first production hydrogen fuel cell saloon. Its hybrid know-how has also been successfully applied to motor sport, with the Toyota TS040 Hybrid claiming the 2014 FIA World Endurance Championship.
Toyota will continue to improve its non-hybrid vehicles as well as it works across the board to improve performance, reduce costs and expand its product line-up.