Toyota is celebrating 15 years as the world’s largest producer of hybrids at the Paris show by recalling how the programme began while planning to expand its foothold in the market.
Satoshi Ogiso, the executive chief engineer of the product planning group, has been involved with the hybrid project since it was just a germ of an idea involving 10 men in a workshop almost 20 years ago.
“In 1993 the top management proposed to the engineering division that Toyota should do something towards the future. It was all very general and nothing concrete,” he said. “Based on that suggestion we put together a small group of just 10 people, and I was included. Energy shortage and security was a big issue, although it was not trendy at the time.”
The group originally proposed a car with a conventional internal combustion engine in a lightweight body, but that was rejected. So the idea for the first Prius was born.
But that in itself caused problems, because battery technology was much more primitive in the mid-1990s. “We put together a prototype which was filled with batteries, so we decided to develop a battery system with Panasonic. When we put our requirements to them they said we were crazy,” says Ogiso.
But by 1997 the first Prius was ready, and an original guesstimate that production should be set at 1,000 cars a month quickly had to be revised upwards to 1,500. Feedback from those early owners was used to develop the second-generation car of 2003. “The powertrain was greatly improved and we managed to realise the dreams of those first owners,” says Ogiso. “We planned to make 5,000 globally a month, but sometimes it went up to 20,000 a month.”
Toyota is now on its third-generation Prius, and has also added petrol-electric versions of the Yaris and Auris as well as the Prius Plus and the Plug-in Prius. It is now trying to devise a modular electric powertrain which can use some common components for hybrids, battery-electric vehicles and even hydrogen fuel-cell cars.
“With our next generation of hybrids, the CO2 will be greatly improved, the vehicle dynamics will be improved and there will be much higher technology,” says Ogiso. “The biggest improvement will go into plug-in hybrids.
“We are looking at all forms of electrification because of the need for energy security and energy diversification, but first we have to expand the hybrid itself. In Japan Toyota has a 40 per cent share of the hybrid market, but globally it is only 10 to 15 per cent.”