Prius Paves the Way

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Photo courtesy Fotolia/Michael Eichhammer
As significant as the Prius' success is, it is just the beginning for hybrid vehicles. A deluge of hybrid announcements has come from the auto industry in the first half of 2004, particularly regarding trucks and SUVs.

Prius Paves the Way for a Hybrid Future

Get behind the wheel of a 2004 Toyota Prius and “you know you’re not in Kansas anymore.” So say the editors of Motor Trend magazine, who gave Toyota’s redesigned gas/electric hybrid their “2004 Car of the Year” award. The editors did not hesitate to grant the Prius their prestigious award, praising it as a comfortable, fun-to-drive car that just happens to get spectacular fuel economy — up to 60 miles per gallon.

There are no penalties for the Prius’ environmental consciousness — that’s its magic, Motor Trend editors say. The Prius has swift acceleration (zero to 60 mph in 9.8 seconds), room for five passengers, numerous conveniences standard and impressive engineering that gives the hybrid a smooth performance barely distinguishable from traditional gas-engine vehicles. The Motor Trend editors say the 2004 Prius is the first hybrid that auto enthusiasts can enjoy: “It provides a tantalizing preview of a future where extreme fuel-efficiency, ultra-low emissions and stirring performance will happily coexist in one package.”

Consumers, too, are giving the Prius fanfare. Since its late 2003 introduction, sales have outpaced production — at press time there were about 15,000 outstanding orders, creating a waiting list of about four months, although increased production should catch up to demand this spring. Toyota plans to produce 47,000 units in 2004 just to meet demand. And the improved 2004 Prius — with more power, more room and improved fuel economy — won’t cost you more than its predecessor: The base price remains at $19,995. Plus, if you bought a hybrid before 2004, you are eligible for a $2,000 tax deduction; buy a hybrid this year and you are eligible for a $1,500 deduction. This benefit ends after 2005, but the Bush administration has proposed continued and higher tax credits for hybrids. For more information, visit

As significant as the Prius’ success is, it is just the beginning for hybrid vehicles. A deluge of hybrid announcements has come from the auto industry in the first half of 2004, particularly regarding trucks and SUVs. Highlights include:

The first luxury hybrid, the Lexus RX 400h, arrives later this year. Lexus, a division of Toyota, estimates the hybrid midsize SUV will get an average fuel economy of 27.6 mpg.

Toyota will release a hybrid version of its Highlander SUV in 2005. Toyota says the seven-passenger Highlander Hybrid will travel 600 miles on one tank of gas, with more horsepower and quicker acceleration than its gas-engine counterpart.

In late 2004, Honda will release a hybrid version of its best-selling Accord. It will deliver more horsepower than the traditional Accord, while achieving the fuel economy of a smaller compact car.

Mercedes-Benz announced a prototype of the world’s first diesel/electric hybrid, the Vision Grand Sports Tourer. The diesel engine and electric motor combination will deliver up to 318 horsepower.

Despite delays, Ford may be the first domestic automaker to release a hybrid. Production of the hybrid version of its Escape SUV is slated to begin in July. 

General Motors plans to use hybrid technology to improve the fuel efficiency of its trucks and SUVs by about 30 percent the world’s largest automaker says that is a more economically sound and environmentally positive strategy than putting hybrid technology in less-expensive cars that already have high fuel economies. The first hybrid trucks, the GMC Siena and Chevrolet Silverado, may go on sale later this year.

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