Toyota Working on Yaris Hybrid as Insight Fighter
By Chris Haak
Although the rumored pricing of Honda’s Insight hybrid didn’t quite pan out in reality (first it was $18,500, then it was “below $20,000,” while finally it turned out to be about $20,500 including destination), it still does have honor of calling itself the lowest-priced new hybrid vehicle available in the US. It undercuts both the Chevrolet Malibu (mild) hybrid and the hybrid standard-bearer, the Toyota Prius.
Just as Honda introduced the Insight because it was not content to forfeit the “green” company mantle to Toyota after launching the first mass-produced hybrid car for sale in the US, Toyota is not willing to allow Honda to take that back without a fight (in spite of the fact that the Insight’s less-sophisticated hybrid system results in inferior EPA numbers to the 2010 Prius’). The result: Toyota confirmed that it is working on a Yaris hybrid for the next generation of the car, due for the 2011 model year.
The Yaris hybrid will undercut the Prius by several thousand dollars – in fact, it will probably undercut the Insight by several thousand dollars. A “regular” Yaris three-door liftback starts at $12,925 including destination, so even adding a $5,000 hybrid premium (plus additional premium equipment that is sure to be required on the hybrid model) still puts the car likely under the $20,000 mark. Fuel economy will probably be excellent (if not superior to the Prius’ ratings), because the Yaris is such a tiny car to begin with. While it will probably have less battery capacity than a Prius and significantly less interior room and comfort, the potential to beat Toyota’s own best effort (at least in my speculation) is a pretty exciting prospect.
Toyota had made some noise a few years ago about how it wanted to eventually sell a hybrid model of nearly every vehicle in its lineup. While I and some others have some doubts about the scalability of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive to large vehicles such as the Tundra and Sequoia (or the Sienna, which would be an interesting coup d’état to offer the first hybrid minivan in the US), I have no doubt about Toyota’s ability to pull off smaller hybrid three- and four-cylinder applications. Because of pricing sensitivity, though, I wonder if the Yaris hybrid would have
Honda, for its part, reminded the world that it is building a Fit hybrid. While I have no doubt that the Fit hybrid will offer a superior driving experience, the Yaris will probably whoop it in the all-important (for a hybrid) fuel economy department. The Fit hybrid is likely to undercut the Insight’s pricing. In spite of the payback periods for the additional cost of hybrids getting far longer as gasoline prices fell in recent months, it’s good to see a fuel economy battle shaping up at the lower end of the market. More hybrids mean more fuel savings, which means the potential of lower fuel prices in the future. That sounds good to me.
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