Toyota’s goal was threefold.
Through a clever gearbox, the system allowed petrol and electric to work in perfect symbiosis, and even permitted the engine to run as often as possible in its most efficient rev-range. Any surplus power was simply turned into electricity and sent to the battery.
Seen by many at first as little more than an oddity, Prius and its powertrain gradually won fans. Technology lovers chose it for its high-tech content, environmentalists for the greener form of transport that it promoted. And when the rich and famous embraced it and started selecting it over the luxury barges and supercars that they preferred in the past, awareness and appreciation rocketed.
Today, hybrid technology has found its way into various other models of the Toyota range. One in three Yaris sold in Europe today is hybrid and the same goes for 40% of all Auris. Nor is Toyota longer alone as a hybrid manufacturer: in recent years, other brands have started to follow suit – including some of the brands that had been highly critical of the technology at the beginning.
However, it did see opportunities for small battery-powered vehicles as an alternative for urban, last-mile mobility. In such usage, driving range is less of a priority, so the battery pack can be kept compact and light, in itself helping efficiency. The latest personification of this concept is the Toyota i-Road, which is deployed in pilot car-sharing programmes in Japan and in the French city of Grenoble.
The principle of energy recuperation was applied to both vehicle types, whereas the hybrid concept was adopted in its entirety for the Fuel Cell prototypes. Here, the petrol engine from a traditional hybrid was simply replaced by a Fuel Cell stack, and the petrol tank by hydrogen tanks.
Today, after more than fifteen years of development, Mirai’s basic architecture borrows from that of the very first Prius. And several parts of its powertrain, such as the motor and the traction battery, are proven components that are shared with other Toyota hybrids.
Going forward, Toyota Fuel Cell cars can be expected to continue to benefit from the company’s ever strengthening expertise of hybrid technology.