Japanese auto giant Toyota presented the fifth generation of its iconic Prius model on Wednesday, pioneering the hybrid vehicle market 25 years ago, a technology whose environmental performance is however increasingly controversial.
“With the current interest in electric vehicles, not a day goes by that we don’t get asked: ‘How much longer are you going to be producing hybrids?'” said Simon Humphries, global head of design at Toyota, almost on the defensive during a presentation in Tokyo.
Toyota has also just entered the buoyant electric vehicle market, with the aim of selling 3.5 million units per year worldwide by 2030.
But the world’s number one automobile continues to bet heavily on hybrid vehicles, which combine thermal and electric technologies.
“Electric vehicles are an important solution (for the climate, editor’s note), but they are not always the best option for everyone. In a plural world, we need a diversity of options”, added Mr. Humphries , recalling the mantra of Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda.
The Prius, which has sold more than five million units since the launch of the first model in 1997, “is an ecological car within everyone’s reach (…). We must have ecological solutions within the reach of as many people as possible “, he insisted.
In 25 years, Toyota has sold more than 20 million hybrid vehicles worldwide (all models combined), making it possible to “reduce CO2 emissions by around 162 million tonnes”, he said again.
With a very sporty design, the new Prius boasts an electric driving range around 50% higher than its previous generation. It will be launched worldwide this winter, and in a plug-in hybrid version in spring 2023.
However, the environmental efficiency of hybrids is increasingly controversial, in particular because it varies greatly depending on the actual use of these vehicles.
At the end of October, the European Parliament approved a text banning sales of new thermal vehicles from 2035 in Europe, including hybrids.
“Although hybrids have lower emissions than vehicles with traditional internal combustion engines, only electric and hydrogen vehicles have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a level compatible with the Paris agreement”, which plans to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to the pre-industrial era, the NGO Greenpeace pleaded on Wednesday.