The design of the current-generation of the Toyota Prius, which went on sale in 2016, closely echoes that of the hydrogen fuel-cell Mirai, which arrived less than a year earlier.
So with the new 2021 Toyota Mirai making a transformation to a fabulous-looking, nicely proportioned sporty rear-wheel-drive sedan layout, will the Prius follow suit?
That’s a question we asked Mirai chief engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka late last year.
2021 Toyota Mirai concept
The answer is a clear no. Tanaka said (via a translator) that he doesn’t see it at all mixing or overlapping with the next-generation Prius, like the current vehicles.
The 2021 Mirai, instead, has found a new crowd to mix with. While it’s a clean-slate vehicle in terms of its layout and the location of its hydrogen storage, fuel-cell stack, and propulsion systems, but it borrows components (structural and otherwise) from the GA-L platform that underpins other Lexus models like the current LC coupes and LS sedans.
Although the outgoing Mirai looks very closely related with the current Prius, it’s on the same platform as the previous Prius—the Prius V and Lexus HS, specifically.
So where does that leave the Prius? In 2018 Prius chief engineer Shoichi Kaneko confirmed to us that there will be a next-generation Prius, and that development was proceeding. Toyota has also said that it does not intend to make the next-generation Prius either all-electric or a fuel-cell vehicle.
2020 Toyota Prius Prime
Tanaka, who oversaw the development of the first plug-in Prius, has previously said that electric vehicles won’t work for long ranges, in part because there won’t be enough fast-charging resources to charge all the vehicles.
Meanwhile, despite the introduction of the plug-in Prime and an all-wheel-drive Prius AWD-e version, Prius sales are on a downward trajectory because Toyota has been deploying much of the Prius hybrid tech to other vehicles in its lineup—including the Corolla. Plug-in hybrid tech will no longer either be a Prius exclusive either, with the 2021 Toyota RAV4 Prime arriving later this year.
What’s left? If the Prius goes back to being a proving ground for technology Toyota doesn’t allow anywhere else in the lineup—like solar, inductive charging, or maybe even advanced self-driving features—it can recover some of its geek cred.
That’s what other Toyota executives have hinted over the past year. With a first tease of the Prius expected by the end of 2020, let’s hope though that they include a design turnaround as radical as what’s been given to the Mirai.