Ten years ago Toyota launched a new kind of car in North America, called the Prius, an affordable car with a hybrid gas/electric powertrain. In the decade that followed, the Prius made an indelible mark on the automotive industry. Over 1.8 million units have been sold in the world to date, with nearly 900,000 in the U.S. alone.
Prius sales were driven by a number of factors. As fuel costs spiked, a clear economic rationale for purchase emerged. But more significantly, the Prius realigned customer expectations as to what a car should be.
Today, the Prius has become a mainstream vehicle. It is the third-best selling car in the Toyota line, and an icon for the company. Owner loyalty figures are among the highest in the automotive industry.
When the first-generation compact Prius was launched in 2000, buyers got 97 combined horsepower and were told to expect 41 mpg. Ten years later, the midsize Prius has 134 horsepower and delivers an EPA rating of 50 mpg overall.
Also the 2010 Prius is bigger, faster and even cleaner. The current Prius is classified as a SULEV/AT-PZEV, meaning that it meets super-ultra-low-emissions-vehicle requirements, and emits zero emissions at rest, compared to the first generation, which was classified as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV). Further innovations, like the solar powered ventilation system on the 2010 model, contribute to the car's reputation as a harbinger of future trends and technologies.
This year, Toyota has begun to deploy a test fleet of plug-in Priuses with lithium ion batteries with full series production of those versions coming in 2012.
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