Toyota calls the lemon-lime-colored hybrid vehicle a concept, but shoppers can expect to see a version of this compact car -- kind of a svelte version of the Toyota Matrix -- in showrooms in several years.
This is Toyota channeling Apple Inc. Just as Apple has built a family of products around its original iPod -- from the tiny Shuffle to the Wi-Fi-enabled iPod Touch -- Toyota plans to build its Prius into a sub-brand.
The concept it unveiled at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit is labeled the FT-CH dedicated hybrid concept, but Toyota executives acknowledge that it will become the Prius compact car offering. Because of its interior space, the current Prius is considered a mid-size car.
The FT-CH was styled at Toyota’s European Design and Development center in Nice, France, and is 22 inches shorter than the Prius.
Building a family of vehicles around the Prius name leverages the brand equity of the vehicle, said Don Esmond, senior vice president of automotive operations for Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. in Torrance.
“It’s a more efficient way to market. When you say ‘Prius,’ you don’t have to educate anybody,” he said. Indeed, there are already 815,000 Prius cars on the road.
The FT-CH, which stands for Future Toyota-Compact Hybrid, could be the first of the line’s extensions, which might eventually include a dedicated hybrid crossover vehicle or a van.
Esmond said that in addition to the Prius, Toyota has sold almost 400,000 other hybrids in the U.S., all hybrid versions of existing Toyota and Lexus vehicles such as the Lexus RX 450h SUV. But the plan is to develop more “ground up"-designed hybrids.
In other green technology, Toyota plans to introduce plug-in hybrids and battery electrics in model year 2012.