How the new Yaris hatchback is killing a 20-year Toyota icon
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With the launch of a hybrid engine option for the all-new Yaris, Toyota New Zealand (TNZ) is mainstreaming its petrol-electric technology more than ever before.
It now has hybrid versions of four out of its six passenger vehicles, and two of its six SUVs, with many more to come.
In fact, before it had sold a single Yaris, TNZ hybrid sales outnumbered conventional petrol and diesel models for the first half of 2020 – for the first time in history.
That means hybrid is no longer an “alternative” powertrain for TNZ. It’s the new normal.
Which brings an uncomfortable truth about one of Toyota’s most iconic models: the Prius isn’t really needed any more.
TNZ sold just 15 Prius hatch models in the first half of the year, a pretty poor showing against the 2141 RAV4, 717 Corolla and 422 C-HR hybrids from the same timeframe.
The Prius C supermini (about the same size as the new Yaris) is already gone. Will the Prius-proper be next?
“Prius has been our technological halo,” says TNZ chief executive Neeraj Lala. “It was the breeding ground for hybrid and it did a really good job for 15-20 years.
“But the requirement for a hybrid test platform is no longer relevant, given that hybrid has become normal. The technology has gone into mainstream platforms and, in models like the RAV4, is even outperforming its gas counterparts.
“The future for Prius is a good question. If Mirai is the future for hydrogen, plug-ins are going to be the next iteration – we can see that with RAV4 in Japan. So the question becomes do you need a platform like Prius to carry that flag?
“Sales in NZ certainly suggest it’ll be a challenge to keep it going. Plug-in Prius [the Prime] sales aren’t growing, Prius hatch sales aren’t growing – because there are so many alternatives for hybrid in our lineup now. We’ll have to make that call – I suspect it won’t be far away.”
Hybrid powertrains make up half of the four Yaris models just launched. The $27,990 GX hybrid adds $2000 to the price of its petrol-only equivalent, while the top $32,990 ZR hybrid adds $3000.
The GX isn’t quite NZ’s cheapest hybrid – the new Suzuki Swift undercuts it. But the Toyota is certainly the most economical non-plug-in hybrid you can buy, with an official fuel consumption figure of 3.3l/100km (the petrol-only version returns 4.9l).
The conventional petrol Yaris makes 88kW from its 1.5-litre three-cylinder petrol engine, but the combined output of the hybrid almost matches it with 85kW.
By the end of September we’ll also see the Yaris Cross, an SUV version (same wheelbase but longer overall, with unique styling and with raised ride height) that will also bring a hybrid engine option.
“My prediction is that over the next 12-18 months, Yaris Cross will become the Yaris replacement,” says Lala. “Given the trend of the market and given that it has so much appeal to a slightly older demographic, I think Yaris Cross will become the dominant small car for us.”
The hybrids will keep coming. Lala admits the massive demand for petrol-electric power on RAV4 caught TNZ by surprise, but the waiting list will soon come down to around a month.
Following Yaris Cross, we’ll see a Highlander hybrid early in 2021 (no compromise on interior space or towing) and a mild-hybrid Hilux before the end of next year.