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  4. The 2000's

The 2000s

The hybrid electric vehicle revolution with the mass-produced Prius 
The new century was the start of a technical revolution in the automotive world. In 2000, three years on from its debut in Japan, the original Prius arrived in Europe as a sedan powered by a new powertrain that comprised both a conventional petrol engine and an electric motor. 

Arrival of the Prius

Unlike any other car on the market, the Prius automatically switched between its different power sources, or used them in combination, to achieve the most efficient performance. As a “full” hybrid, it could use its electric motor alone, with zero fuel consumption and no tailpipe emissions. In this way, the Prius was true to the Latin roots of its name, being a car ahead of its time. We had actually been developing our hybrid technology since the 1960s, long before green issues became such a major cause of global concern and before the introduction of legislation to reduce greenhouse gases. 

A new concept in motoring

Our environmental vision and early investment in R&D meant that by the time Prius was ready to be marketed to our customers, we were completely confident in its quality and ability to deliver the performance we promised. The faith we had in the Prius was reflected in the fact that it was the first car in Europe to be sold with a five-year/100,000 km warranty. The first-generation Prius also introduced people to a new concept in motoring. This meant that its initial appeal was as a niche alternative to the conventional petrol and diesel models European customers knew and trusted.

Improved second-generation

Around 4,000 were sold before the Prius was transformed in 2003 with the introduction of a second-generation version. It combined more contemporary hatchback styling with significant gains in performance and efficiency. Fuel economy was better by 15 per cent at 4.3 l/100 km, while CO2 emissions dropped to 104 g/km. At the same time, motorists were becoming more keenly aware of the need to reduce their carbon footprint and conserve energy, and legislators across the continent began considering tax systems that favoured cleaner vehicles. 

Hybrid becomes mainstream

Where the original Prius created the hybrid vehicle market, its successor raised the profile of the technology and the model’s popularity. The role of the third-generation Prius, launched in 2009, was to take hybrid into the mainstream. Power was one-third greater than in 2000, fuel consumption improved by 23 per cent, and CO2 levels fell below 100 g/km for the first time. These figures reflect how our commitment to continuously improving the environmental performance of the Prius delivered real benefits to society. It was easy to drive and practical to use, with reduced fuel consumption and carbon emissions. 

Yaris and Auris become hybrid

The Prius changed the motoring landscape and led to the roll-out of hybrid technology to the Yaris and Auris (currently Corolla). The Prius became a family of models, with the introduction in 2012 of the Prius+, the world’s first 7-seat full hybrid vehicle, and another world first, the Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The latter’s powerful lithium-ion battery can be recharged using a simple plug-in connection to a power supply in the home, workplace or a public parking place. This allows for greater distances and higher speeds when driving on zero-emissions electric power, compared to the conventional Prius.

1 million hybrids sold

In 2007 we reached one million worldwide hybrid vehicle sales. The same number was reached in Europe in 2015, out of already 8M globally by that time. The knowledge gained from our worldwide sales played a vital role in ensuring that the cars we brought to market achieved best possible performance, both for the customer as for the environment. We continued to improve and adapt our hybrid technology towards our goal of creating the ultimate eco-car. Our deep knowledge of hybrid technology steered the further development of other powertrains, such as in fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicles.

The hybrid pioneer becomes mature

Prius has succeeded in transforming people’s understanding and acceptance of hybrid technology. Today it has become a familiar and popular choice for more and more people who appreciate not only its cleaner and more efficient performance, but also its smooth and sophisticated drive quality and its lasting reliability. While we since worked towards electrifying our entire fleet of European and global models, the Prius remains the most well-known hybrid car in the world.  

The 2000s in Europe