When the North American International Auto Show hits Detroit in January 2011, there will be featured a few new versions of its wildly popular Prius hybrid. One is going to be an MPV, a larger and roomier version of the Prius in its current form. And there is sure to be a plug in version as well, probably the same or ostensibly the same prototype that was made available in the fall of 2010. But there is word that a third as yet unknown version of the Prius is also going to make its debut in Detroit. For now it is being called just a "Prius concept vehicle," because everyone at Toyota is being very tight lipped about it and not revealing anything ahead of time.
Prius Gets Own Production Brand
It is possible that the unnamed car will be a near production ready version of a car that debuted last year, or it could be more of a crossover style to go with the original Prius and the MPV and compete with other new vehicle technologies such as the Nissan Leaf CARWINGS system. If the latter is true, it will be very interesting to see how the buying public responds. About the only thing people ever have to say badly about Prius vehicles is the fact that they are so small, and yet that small size is part of what gives the car at least some of its cache.
Going to an MPV and a crossover (hypothetically) under the Prius flag is an intriguing strategy. Toyota seems to be betting that the buyers who have made the car so popular and sales so good don't just love it for its size or specific design, but for something else that it brings. If this is truly the case, can they recapture that something in a different body style? And can they do all of this or try to do it without doing any damage to the Prius name plate (and that aforementioned cache)?
One thing about all of this is for certain: it is certainly a bold move worth admiring that Toyota is at least trying to do something like this. Given the immense popularity of the brand even among folks who don't own one and have never even driven a Toyota, perhaps the company is banking on getting in on some of that potential latent target audience: those who really do admire the little hybrid and maybe even loved it just a little when it first came out, but simply can't bring themselves to buy one because it just isn't practical enough to suit their needs.
Practicality and the Prius
This brings up another line of questioning. Is the Prius kind of like the Mini Cooper and the old (not the new) VW Bug in that part of what is so charming about is the fact that it seems to be such an impractical vehicle purchase? As a driver, you can fit yourself, your laptop case, and your travel mug on your way to work. Any passengers have to be very skinny or at least sucking in the whole time. Will the bigger version blow up some of this spirit maybe of a rebellious streak or that dash of misanthrope hauler that seems to reside in the current incarnation? All of this, of course, remains to be seen. In all likelihood Toyota has encountered some of these questions in its demographic studies and found some way to balance things out. But that, in the end, may be just the problem. Access to any parking spot and cheap group auto insurance are just the beginning of what drivers love about the new Prius models.