Toyota”s celebrity car is a star performer

25 October 2004 #SMMT News

It’s the D-segment car that partners A-list celebrities. Few car makers boast Cameron Diaz, Harrison Ford, and Leonardo Di Caprio among its list of owners, particularly when the car in question is a mid-sized hatchback. But Toyota does, with its petrol-electric Prius.

Star performer

Aside from taking Hollywood names to Oscars and film premieres, the Prius has become a star performer in its own right. Celebrity status has raised its profile and worldwide sales have topped the 210,000 mark. Huge it may not be, but it is certainly significant for an alternative-fuelled vehicle. And its reputation is growing. In Japan production has increased by a third to 15,000 every month in an effort to meet worldwide demand.

Prius sales are healthy in the UK too. By the end of September, Toyota sold well over 1,300 models compared to just 149 for the whole of 2003. Bosses at Toyota are confident they’ll hit the 1,600 target by the end of the year. For those who have driven the new Prius, launched in January 2004, none of this will come as a surprise. With a more powerful electric motor, redesigned interior and an exterior that has started to turn heads, the automotive debutante has blossomed into an experienced pro.

Leaner and greener

The hybrid power plant now delivers more power and torque than most small petrol engines. For the driver this means serious performance to match seriously low emissions. Take the 0-60 figures for example. At 10.9 seconds, Toyota has shaved two seconds off the claim of the outgoing model.

As well as improving performance, Toyota has upped the car’s green credentials and lowered running costs. Fuel consumption at over 65 mpg is 14 per cent better on the combined cycle, compared to the 57.6mpg for the old model. Carbon dioxide emissions are down to 104 g/km presenting drivers with the lowest costs under company car tax rules. As for road tax, that’s just £65 a year. Prices start at £17,495. It may not be the cheapest family hatchback on the market but how many others boast the ingenious marriage of 1.5-litre petrol engine and battery, which carries an eight year manufacturers’ warranty? How many qualify for a £700 Powershift grant? How many can match the ultra-low running costs?

Free parking and no congestion charge

Then there are the new, 21st century costs of motoring like the London congestion charge. The centre of the capital has become something of a hotspot for Prius spotting. No surprise there. Owners can save themselves up to £1,250 a year driving through the centre of London with absolute impunity. But congestion is not just a London issue. Councils throughout the UK are toying with the idea of charging schemes to deal with the problem. Inevitably this includes exemptions and you can guarantee the Prius will be the first name on any list.

Under European funding for greener motoring schemes, Hampshire is one council that has done a deal to let petrol-electric cars park free in Winchester’s busy town centre. Prius and Honda Civic IMA owners can save themselves up to £800 a year on this one. In future, other councils are likely to come up with similar green deals.

For manufacturers of hybrid vehicles, this is good news. Every congestion charge, local authority parking scheme and other brain wave that exempts petrol-electric hybrids represents an opportunity for their star performer to shine.

The message for the rest of us is clear. Rewind to 17 February 2003, the first day of London’s congestion charge and groups of Toyota workers skilfully positioned at locations on the cusp of the zone waving placards saying ‘don’t get mad, get a Prius’.

Nigel Wonnacott

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