Thursday, April 21, 2016

What Came Before: The Real History of the Toyota Prius

One translation for "prius" is Latin is "to go before." Today, there are people who say "Prius" when they mean "hybrid" in the same way they use "Kleenex" for tissue, but the Toyota Prius didn't spring full-blown from its maker's forehead—it had precedent and context. Here’s the thumbnail history of what actually transpired before and after the first Toyota Prius went into production in Japan in 1997.What we now call a hybrid dates to the late 19th century when early car designers struggled to find sufficient power to move their carriages after horses were sent to pasture. Two gasoline-electric proposals appeared at the 1899 Paris Salon. The following year, Ferdinand Porsche, while employed at the Lohner Works in Austria, designed and developed the first successful series hybrid (1903 example, top left photo) with four electrically driven wheels energized by two generators, each powered by a 2.5-horsepower Daimler engine.---Two other early hybrids were the Owen Magnetic (top right), which was a serial design in which the engine charged batteries to drive a motor, and Woods Dual Power (bottom right), which could use its engine, its electric motor, or both as the driver commanded, more like a parallel hybrid system. By the mid-1920s, there were no more hybrid cars being sold.---Interest revived in the 1960s with passage of the 1963 Clean Air Act, and subsequent amendments that eventually created the Environmental Protection Agency (1970). Efforts to diminish pollution began, renewing interest in hybrids. Four TRW engineers, backed by the Health, Education, and Welfare Department (the EPA’s precursor) invented a clever electro-mechanical transmission capable of mixing combustion and electric power sources. They filed for a patent in 1969. Also that year, GM showed the XP-883 concept (bottom left photo), which ran on electric power up to about 10 mph when the gas engine took over. It was cruder than the TRW-patented system, but it was a hybrid.-- -In 1976, our well-wishing Congress passed the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act. In Japan, Toyota began toying with a small hybrid sports car powered by a gas turbine generator and an electric motor.To give carmakers a break from rising regulatory stress, the Clinton-Gore administration created a Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) in 1993. In exchange for holding Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) at 27.5 mpg rather than increasing it, manufacturers were supposed to collaborate with national labs, universities, federal agencies, and auto-industry suppliers on the construction of 80-mpg concept cars by 1999 and production-feasible prototypes by 2004. They got to the non-producible prototype stage, as seen here with the GM Precept. Chrysler's was called ESX-3 and Ford's was named Prodigy.GM's running hybrid prototype called Precept was allegedly capable of 90 mpg on diesel fuel. During the seven-year PNGV development, the partners, including the EPA, developed what we now know as the MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent) measurement. All of Detroit's proposals ended up using diesel-hybrid powertrains, in part because diesel fuel scored better on this scale. The Ford and Chrysler prototypes claimed 72-mpg on diesel, meeting the 80-mpg target by virtue of a 10-percent allowance.---Toyota tried to join the PNGV at its inception in 1993, but was blocked from admission because one of the program’s unstated purposes was to help domestics compete against imports. So chairman Eiji Toyoda was moved to ponder automobile efficiency in earnest. If America was serious about this "new-generation vehicle" thing (and he's had no reason to suspect otherwise until years later when the Bush administration killed the PNGV program), perhaps Japan and, especially, Toyota should be ready with an answer.Toyoda handed responsibility for spearheading a project initially called G21—short for "a global car for the 21st century"—to Takeshi Uchiyamada, a bright, 47-year-old engineer schooled in applied physics. (He is now chairman of Toyota’s board of directors.)---Given what transpired, a better name for what became the Toyota Prius might have been derived from the Latin word motivus. Uchiyamada’s assertive boss Akiro Wada doubled the initial G21 goal of a 50-percent gain in gas mileage and selected the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show as the time and place for presenting Toyota’s future concept. They made that target with the show car seen here.---The double whammy of the Great Hanshin Earthquake and a sarin nerve-gas attack on the Tokyo subway system couldn’t thwart the arrival of the Prius concept, although show attendees were more impressed by new sports cars presented by Honda, Mazda, and Toyota.Eighty of Toyota’s best research engineers spent two years inventing a practical hybrid powertrain. The standard approach for such exercises is to begin with a literature review. Two key discoveries expedited that cause. One was the 1942 primer “Torque Converters or Transmissions” by Peter Heldt, an early automotive magazine writer. The second was a Society of Automotive Engineers technical paper published in 1971 by the previously mentioned TRW engineering team.---Unlike many show cars, the Prius concept on the show stand was more than an interesting idea: Toyota had prototypes (like the one in this image) running in engineering tests.Instead of reinventing the wheel, Toyota had simply adopted and refined the TRW/Heldt hybrid configuration consisting of one IC engine and two electric motor-generators lashed to the front wheels through a planetary gear set. This powertrain started and ran for the first time a few weeks after the Prius’s Tokyo Motor Show introduction.Wasting no time on tea breaks, Toyota accelerated the Prius’s on-sale launch by two years so customers would be enjoying exemplary fuel efficiency before the December 1997 Kyoto (Japan) Conference on Global Warming.---That first production model combined a 57-hp gasoline engine with a 40-hp electric drive motor. (The second motor-generator started the engine, established its load and speed, and provided electricity to the larger drive motor, but did not directly drive the wheels.)---The first Car and Driver road test of the Japanese-market-specification right-hand-drive Prius appeared with this photo in our February 1999 issue. It did 0 to 60 mph in 14.1 seconds, averaged 35 mpg, and we converted the Japanese-market price to $18,400.Enter Honda, seldom known for letting technical grass grow under its feet. At the 1999 North American International Auto Show, Honda presented a two-seat concept it called VV. Powered by a three-cylinder gasoline engine and an Integrated (electric) Motor Assist powering the front wheels, the VV was, like GM's EV1, a tiny two-seater to make the most of every BTU of energy it could muster.---With minimal change, this hybrid went on sale in December of that year as the Honda Insight, beating an improved Toyota Prius to the U.S. market by seven months. ---Produced through the 2006 model year, the original Insight earned a 52-mpg combined EPA mileage rating, the highest achieved by any car until the 2016 Prius Eco earned its 56-mpg rating. ---In our first road test published in January 2000, it ran to 60 mph in 13.3 and our drivers got 47 mpg. We got that up to 121.7 mpg in a 195-mile competition by the simple expedient of drafting close behind a giant Ford Excursion SUV.The first-generation Prius went on sale in the U.S. in 2000 with a base price of $20,000 (plus $855 delivery) minus a tantalizing $2000 federal tax credit for its Ultra Low Emission Vehicle status. Rampant speculation insisted this was a loss leader with no hope of return on Toyota’s considerable investment in hybrid technology.---This car was essentially the same one Toyota had been selling in Japan since 1997, but with its powerplants upgraded to produce 70 horsepower from the engine and 44 horsepower from the electric motor. Federalization added 88 pounds to the curb weight. Our version also got a little spoiler on the decklid and 14-inch wheels in place of the 15-inchers on the Japanese-market model. It also no longer had a pass-through tunnel from the trunk into the backseat, and the upgraded left-hand-drive interior had a slightly less dorky shifter. Our March 2001 road test saw it hit 60 mph in 13.0 seconds and return the same 35-mpg real-world fuel economy we'd seen two years earlier in the Japanese-spec car.A larger and more attractive second-generation design with a top surface mimicking an airfoil came quickly, arriving in 2003 as a 2004 model. A claimed 0.26 drag coefficient helped stretch highway mileage. To allay fears of battery failure, the warranty for that component was stretched to 150,000 miles in states using California emissions standards and 100,000 miles elsewhere. This time Toyota used three plants in Japan to supply rising global demand for efficient small cars. To disparage the less successful Honda Insight, Toyota coined the phrase ‘mild hybrid’ to describe any gas-electric automobile unable to propel itself solely with its electric motor.---Without weighing in on that topic, our editors deemed the 2004 model worthy of 10Best status, the only time the Prius has appeared on that annual list. Without putting too fine a point on it, this was the target year by which PNGV was supposed to result in production models.General Motors was another unwitting contributor to the Prius cause. The concept car's engine wore a badge saying EMS, for Energy Management System (top left image). The first production model (top right) was re-labeled with Toyota Hybrid System labels. But everyone knows it now as Toyota's "Hybrid Synergy Drive," as seen on the most recent models (bottom). Where'd that come from? GM.---In the thick of the New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI) liaison with Toyota, the two car giants collaborated on fuel cells, hybrids, and other advanced technology. The hybrid leg of this stool was dubbed "synergy," to describe the hoped-for benefits to come from the gas-electric, GM-Toyota relationship. In 2000, the partnership was disbanded, although the NUMMI manufacturing operation continued several more years (before it was ironically sold to Tesla). As a parting gesture, Toyota politely asked the General for permission to trademark the Synergy name for its exclusive use. Thus was born Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive, a name that arrived coincident with the introduction of the 2004 second-generation Prius.Gaining confidence that its Prius brand was on a roll, Toyota presented the third-generation early in 2009 as a 2010 model with even lower drag (verified by us in wind-tunnel testing at 0.26 versus a claimed 0.25). To cut weight, the hood, hatch, and a few chassis parts were made of aluminum. A wide range of new equipment additions—navigation, a head-up display, radar cruise control—were bestowed upon a growing family of four trim levels.Having made the "moves on electricity alone" distinction to tout its hybrid technology as superior to that of competitors, Toyota found customers taking it seriously on that score. "Why can't we plug it in and drive it as a pure electric?" After a two-year trial leasing them to fleets, Toyota introduced the Plug-In version in 2012. It was pretty much the same car only with a 4.4-kWh lithium-ion battery pack in place of the 1.3-kWh nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) pack and upgrades to the cooling system to handle the great energy load. With up to 15 miles of pure electric range at speeds up to 62 mph, the plug-in could handle neighborhood chores without surrendering any green cred to the all-electric likes of the Nissan Leaf. Customers needed only to drop another $5000 (minus incentives) over and above the price of a plugless Prius.As buyers went ga-ga for crossovers, Toyota expanded its hybrid range with the Prius V. Six inches longer, it's a more spacious, three-row wagonoid on a longer wheelbase and with 70-percent more cargo capacity than a standard Prius sedan.Smaller, cheaper, and based on the Yaris, the Prius C was added to the range in 2012. There'd been talk of spinning Prius off as its own sub-brand, like Scion, with this expansion of the range, but Toyota opted not to go there. That Honda had given up on its Insight hybrid-specific model, settling instead for offering hybrid technology across its "ordinary" models, may have played in a part in that decision. Whatever the case, a Prius C has a smaller engine (1.5-liters rated at 73 horsepower) and a less gutsy electric motor drawing on a smaller battery pack. It out-performed the original Prius handily inThe C and V models continue for now, but there's a new player in the starring role for 2016. Totally new architecture arrived with the fourth-generation Prius which went on sale this year. Where the first Prius resembled the turtle symbol that showed up on its dashboard when the battery was depleted, this one aims to look designed. (Whether you like that design is another question, however.) It also gets an improved rear suspension in a bid for competitive ride and handling dynamics.A new plug-in version of the latest Prius, now called Prime, bowed at the 2016 New York auto show as a 2017 model. Twenty years after the original Prius, the new plug-in boasts the ability to use both electric motor-generators for propulsion and claims 22 miles of range on electric power alone. Where the first car had the air of an escapee from a community college science fair, the latest one is an established player trying to fend off the challenges of fresher, greener contenders.
from Car and Driver Blog

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