The Prius family of hybrids: Anyway you want it

Toyota Prius C

Toyota’s Prius C is photographed at SOL Austin, a sustainable community east of the Texas capitol.

At the 2012 Chicago Auto Show, while addressing members of the Chicago Economic Club, Yoshi Inaba, President and COO of Toyota Motor North America, spoke of his time spent studying for his MBA in Chicago, rhapsodized over the city’s deep dish pizzas and spent a moment – or two – on the subject of Toyota’s Prius lineup. With last year’s introduction of the Prius V, and the imminent launch of both plug-in and ‘C’ (for ‘city’) variants, the Prius is not one hybrid but a family of hybrids. And it’s a family which should produce over 200,000 retail sales for Toyota North America during the 2012 calendar year.

With such a relatively short history, the success of the Prius product has been nothing short of spectacular. Introduced to U.S. consumers in 2000, the Prius has – according to Toyota – saved those customers 1.1 billion gallons of fuel, sixteen million tons of carbon dioxide and almost $3 billion in fuel costs. Mr. Inaba pointedly noted that if everyone in the U.S. drove a Prius U.S. dependence on foreign oil would be reduced by some 70%.

With the addition of three new variants Toyota provides a compelling argument. Its Prius V provides space comparable to – or greater than – any number of compact sport utilities while delivering fuel efficiency roughly double of what you’ll obtain in Honda’s CR-V or the Ford Escape. And despite a ‘bulked-up’ exterior (at least relative to the standard Prius) there’s no penalty for the additional space in its balance of comfortable ride and relatively composed handling.

The Prius Plug-in takes the traditional, third-generation Prius profile and adds extended range via a plug-in battery and short charging time. The result is a MPGe (miles-per-gallon-equivalent) of roughly 95, which should make urbanites or suburbanites with an aversion to buying gas extremely satisfied with both the vehicle’s economy and attainability.

Toyota’s Prius C, the smallest, most urban take on the Prius recipe, will be profiled in a separate CarBuzzard article. It occupies the smallest Prius footprint (about the size of the Yaris 5-door) and will deliver a combined 50 miles per gallon for under $19K (plus destination and handling). This puts hybrid efficiency in the hands of young adults, and also makes it an easy transaction to rationalize as young families add second and third vehicles to their fleets.

With some one million Prius cars on American roadways to date, the Prius story has just begun. And with nineteen new or updated products coming from Toyota this year, almost half will be hybrid or electrics. The alternative fuel story looks to be a long one; grab some popcorn (its own form of alternative energy) and, uh, plug in…