Saturday, January 31, 2009

Third Generation Toyota Prius

The new third generation Toyota Prius is rated at 50mpg, but its sales may not be exceedingly spectacular during these (temporary) times of low oil prices. Prius sales dropped 45% in the end of 2008, and things are so bad across the product range that they’ve announced that they’re suspending all vehicle production in all 12 Japanese plants for 11 days over February and March.

Even if oil prices don’t rise in the near future, Toyota is hoping for the whole “greening” of America to boost Prius sales, fueled by demand from environmentally-conscious buyers, as long as they don’t find out how damaging to the environment the production of a Prius is, despite the Prius itself being a greener car than a regular sedan or hatchback.

Toyota says the new Prius is roomier, quieter, more advanced and has more equipment. It even has a moonroof equipped with a solar panel located over the rear seating area. As previously speculated, the solar panels only powers the air circulation fan for the air conditioning system, not even the whole air conditioning system! This fan can function while the car is unoccupied, which means it can keep the car’s interior cool while it is parked under the hot sun.

As for styling, the original shape has been retained since it has become iconic, defining what a hybrid should look like so much that even Honda was “inspired” by it for the new second generation Honda Insight. But it is larger, with the original shape stretched and moulded to its new proportions. The front headlamps have a unique shape to them, okay maybe not exactly unique, we recently saw the exact same thing on the new Nissan 370Z!

The Atkinson cycle engine under the hood is now larger and more powerful, clocking in at 1.8 liters on the displacement scale and putting out 98 horsepower at 5,200rpm and 142Nm of torque at 4,000rpm. The electric motor puts out 80hp and 208Nm of torque, but combined output of the two systems are 134 horsepower. Power from the two “engines” go through an electronically controlled CVT transmission. The hybrid battery pack is still a NiMH (no move to lithium ion yet). The Prius can run in 3 modes - EV, Eco and Power. EV is an electric-only mode (which can run for about 1.6km, good for short trips to the shop or mamak), while Eco and Power should be self explanatory.

There are a few engineering improvements in the new Prius over the old one, especially in teh area of the Hybrid Synergy Drive system. The transaxle is now lighter and reduces torque losses by as much as 20%. The inverter has a new direct cooling system which results in a smaller size and lighter weight. A new brake energy regeneration system has also been fitted. The system also uses exhaust gas heat to help warm up the engine during startup for improved emissions and performance. This exhaust gas heat is also used to heat up the passenger cabin more efficiently. The body uses aluminium in the hood, rear hatch, front suspension axle and brake caliper to reduce weight.

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