Meeting the customer’s electric dreams

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VANCOUVER, B.C. – Toyota Canada is proud of it hybrid and electric present and future.

This year alone has seen the rollout of the Canada’s first national partnership program on sustainable transportation with over a dozen organizations across four provinces and the commencement of real-world trials on the third generation Toyota Prius PHV.

The tests, tantamount to 600 vehicles hitting real-world and real-weather conditions in seven countries, seeks technical and consumer feedback on the plug-in before its 2012 launch date.

But how does Toyota reconcile these emission-reducing ambitions that seem diametrically opposed to the ideals of a big volume manufacturer?

“Environmental stewardship is in our DNA,” explained Sandy Di Felice, director of Toyota Canada’s external affairs. “If you look at our conventional gasoline engines, for the last 18 months, Toyota has been bringing out mid-year model changes, new to market vehicles and new model years… In all of those vehicles we’ve brought to market we have been producing more power with less fuel thanks to engine enhancements.”

She said the automaker continues to focus on fuel efficiency on its volume vehicles as a core part of the operation while exploring the hybrid and plug-in technology that some consumers demand.

To that end, Toyota recently showed off its third generation Prius plug-in near the shores of British Columbia. The latest model runs on a hybrid synergy drive system that features an Atkinson Cycle 1.8 litre, four-cylinder engine. A standard 110-volt outlet will charge the lightweight lithium-ion batteries in about three hours.

All told, the new plug-in can travel upwards of 20 kilometres on battery life alone (why 20 km? Toyota research shows the average Canadian car trip is within that range).

“We don’t have any volume targets now. Right now we are testing for adaptability of the product in the market and factors related to consumer adoption of the product,” she said.

Di Felice noted that Toyota’s hybrid vehicles have been in the market for about 12 years with about 2.4 million sold globally helping to reduce CO2 emissions by 4.5 million tons worldwide.

“Our share of the Canadian hybrid market in Canada is 61 per cent,” she added.

When it comes to selling these vehicles, she said the Toyota dealers have been the “best advocates” for the technology.

“We have a great dealer network and they’re probably the earliest adopters in light of understanding what their customer’s want.”