The world's largest automaker has been slow off the mark in the race to bring electric vehicles to market, but it is now playing catch up at a fearsome rate, and we'll see the first of its new range of electric vehicles two weeks from now at the Tokyo Motor Show, along with a host of other electric, hybrid and fuel cell models, all of which seem destined for production over the next three years.
The first Toyota EV will be based on the Toyota iQ, as we reported in February this year, and exactly as we predicted, it will be a four-seater with a range of 65 miles (100 km) and will hit showrooms next year.
Indications from Toyota executives are that the car will be aggressively priced, and when consumers actually work out that most of their commuting needs fit well within the 65 mile range of the tiny electric vehicle, and that it is several thousand dollars below the competition, we might finally begin to see the EV market begin to get some traction.
The most practical of the vehicles to be shown at Tokyo, at least in the short term, is the Aqua, which is smaller than the plug-in Prius and will join it in American showrooms in the spring of 2012 as the "Prius C."
The Toyota Prius C (Aqua in Japan)
The Prius C, (Aqua in Japan), uses a 1500cc gas-engine in comparison to the Prius Plug-in's 1800cc engine, plus exactly the same Hybrid Synergy Drive components, in a smaller, lighter, more aerodynamic vehicle at a substantially lower price. How could it possibly go wrong?
Whatsmore, it apparently delivers in excess of 50 mpg around town, will be first seen in America at the NAIAS Show in Detroit in January, and contains a raft of premium in-car electronics, in a five-door configuration: Bluetooth® hands-free phone connectivity, steering-wheel audio controls, and nine airbags will be among the standard features on the 2012 Prius c.
So before we see summer 2012, there will be a choice of four Toyotas bearing the Prius name: the third-generation Prius Liftback hybrid, the Prius plug-in, the Prius C and a new Prius v midsize hybrid vehicle.
In the context of the Tokyo Motor Show, the Aqua (Prius C) is expected to go on sale in Japan before the end of this year, and consumers will be able to drive the vehicle at the Show.
The massive, congested Tokyo domestic market will no doubt be very interested in the new plug-in, and as an added bonus for Toyota, the Tokyo Motor Show will actually be in Tokyo this year.
The venue for the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show is "Big Site", which is just an 18 minute train ride from downtown Tokyo on an island in Tokyo Bay, as opposed to previous years when the then far-more-important Tokyo Motor Show was held in Chiba, which is an hour from central Tokyo and far less accessible for the majority of potential buyers.
The FCV-R (Fuel Cell Vehicle - Reality & Revolution)
The FCV-R concept is a family sized vehicle running on electricity provided by an onboard hydrogen fuel cell located beneath the specially designed bodyshell. Unlike battery electric vehicles, the fuel cell vehicle converts hydrogen from its 70 MPa high-pressure hydrogen tank, meaning it has a much greater range - in this case, approximately 430 miles under the Japanese JC08 test cycle. The four seater also has plenty of room and luggage space.
The Toyota Fun-Vii
The Toyota Fun-Vii ( Fun-Vehicle interactive internet) concept is the most intriguing of Toyota's Tokyo exhibits is the (bottom right) Fun-Vii concept "where people, cars and society are linked".
The only image released so far shows a man with pictures of a car on his mobile phone, presumably projecting the image onto the side of the car. Toyota has a history of building concept cars which are beyond Western comprehension, so I cannot wait to see what they have come up with this time.
The company's concept vehicles at previous motor shows have included a car which displays the driver's emotions (something I thought would probably not be suitable in some markets), but many Asian countries (Japan and Korea to start with) have national psyches which seem well suited to this and ... I can't wait.