Prius Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary
TORRANCE, CA - Ten years ago Toyota launched the Prius, an affordable car with a hybrid gas/electric powertrain.
The car with the signature wedge shape proved to be an agent of change, and a catalyst for innovative ideas. Over 1.8 million units have been sold in the world to date, with nearly 900,000 in the U.S. alone.
"Toyota recognized in the 1990s that sustainable transportation would become a huge challenge in the coming decades," said Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. "Those realizations proved accurate, and if anything, even more profound considering what we know today."
The first Prius came to North America in July of 2000. That year, the hit of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was the Hummer H2, and national gasoline prices averaged about $1.50 per gallon. Modest Prius sales goals of 12,000 units a year were set.
Not all early reviews were flattering. One car magazine said, "With a real-world 35 mpg, this is a car that neither enthusiasts nor greenies can fully embrace." Competing manufacturers announced that hybrids were "not an economical or practical solution" to America's future needs. Many insisted that Toyota had provided the solution to a problem that did not exist.
Prius owners, however, felt otherwise. Widely characterized as extreme environmentalists, early Prius adopters were actually more likely to be tech-savvy professionals, Toyota said.
Those first owners became advocates for the technology. Soon, demand outstripped supply, and production had to be stepped up as waiting lists became months long.
Today, the Prius is a mainstream vehicle. It is the third-best selling car in the Toyota line. Owner loyalty figures are among the highest in the automotive industry.
Each generation of the Prius has moved the bar higher. 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.
Improvements have been continuous. While the first generation was classified as a Super Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV), the current Prius is a SULEV/AT-PZEV, meaning that it meets super-ultra-low-emissions-vehicle requirements, and emits zero emissions at rest. 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.