Meet Toyota's New Hybrid, the Auris

Last Updated Sep 15, 2009 4:37 AM EDT

REYKJAVIK, ICELAND--In 1967, Toyota produced its first hybrid. Yes, the company has a long history in hybrids before the Prius. The car was a variant of the Sports 800 GT, and its gas turbine engine connected to a generator (like the Chevy Volt), and supplied an electric motor and two-speed gearbox. In 1975, Toyota built a second variant based on its large, limousine-like Century, with a GT45 gas turbine and an electric motor.

This history is interesting in light of Toyota's stated intention to hybridize its entire product line. Speaking in Reykjavik, Iceland at the Driving Sustainability '09 conference, Stephen Stacey, general manager, government and technical affairs, Toyota Motor Europe, talked about the next hybrid in line at Toyota, the Auris. The car will rollout in mid-2010.

The Auris, which is Corolla-sized and not sold in the U.S., will be aimed at Europe and built in Britain. Using a version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy drivetrain for the Prius, the Auris should have stellar fuel economy, possibly in the mid-70s. It will also be very easy on the environment, with carbon dioxide emissions under 100 grams per kilometer. A target of zero to 60 in 10 seconds means it won't be a road rocket.

The new Auris could be a clue to Toyota's plans to produce a similar hybrid version of the U.S.-spec Yaris. According to Stacey, Toyota wants to hybridize its entire product line by 2020. The company, which has already produced more than a million hybrids, aims for two million by the early 2010s.

A hybrid Yaris, rumored in the Japanese press, is "possible," said Stacey in an interview. "I've heard talk about it, but as you get smaller it gets harder and harder to justify the cost of a hybrid drivetrain. And the Yaris is already very fuel-efficient."

Toyota's forthcoming plug-in hybrid version of the Prius will be launched in a test program late in 2009 with 150 cars in Europe, 150 in the U.S., and 200 in Japan. That car, said Stacey, will have a 12.5-mile electric-only range and a two-hour recharging time.

Another possible Toyota hybrid is a Prius station wagon, Stacey said. Toyota produces a diesel hybrid truck, but so far has not considered a diesel hybrid car for Europe, where diesels are a big part of the product mix. "Diesel engines are expensive, and putting them together with a hybrid drivetrain is a cost challenge," Stacey said.

Toyota, by the way, has an incredible 30 percent of the market in Iceland. The latest version of the Land Cruiser sold more units in Iceland than it did in Germany, but Iceland has only 300,000 people.