Toyota Plug-In’s New Name Aims To Clear Up Confusion

Toyota North America CEO Jim Lentz tells who will buy the Prius Prime and what’s so special about it.

Steve Finlay, Senior Editor

March 23, 2016

3 Min Read
Lentz at Prius Primersquos New York debut
Lentz at Prius Prime’s New York debut.

NEW YORK – Toyota’s latest plug-in hybrid electric vehicle now has its own name – Prius Prime – in part to clear up some marketplace confusion.

The ’17 model is based on the fourth-generation Prius hybrid “and shares all of its improvements,” Bill Fay, Toyota Div.’s general manager, says at the New York International Auto Show debut of the plug-in version.

An improvement of its own for the Prius Prime is twice as much electric-mode range than its PHEV predecessor.

At the show, Toyota Motors North America CEO Jim Lentz talks with WardsAuto about the better range, the new name and more.     

WardsAuto: Who will buy the Prius Prime?

Lentz: A lot of existing Prius owners. If you look at current owners, and we’ve got about two million of them, they’ll be interested in this car.

WardsAuto: Why, because they want to step up from a hybrid to a plug-in hybrid?

Lentz: A number of reasons. When you look at it originally, these are the buyers who wanted the technology and the fuel economy. And they wanted to help the environment. This takes their buying motives to the next level. Over 100-mile mpg (2.36 l/100 km), 600-mile (960 km) range. Now they can get 22 miles (35 km) on a charge. That will make a huge difference.

WardsAuto: The price?

Lentz: We haven’t announced that yet, but it will be value-priced. We’re going to get these buyers in.

I’ve had three generations of Prius as an owner. I drove the last plug-in when I was in California. I was happy getting 75 mpg (3.14 l/100 km). So the opportunity to get 100 mpg, regardless of the price of fuel, is really exciting to the Prius owner.          

WardsAuto: The last one was just called a Prius plug-in. This one has an actual name. What’s the idea behind that?

Lentz: People were confused with “plug-in.” A lot of people thought the (Prius PHEV) was a pure EV. This gets away from that.

WardsAuto: There were a lot of incentives and deep discounting on the last one. Why do you expect to do better with this one?

Lentz: Remember, a lot of those discounts were based on the product cadence and model cycle. That was the very end of the model cycle. Typically, you’ll see incentives go up towards the end of the cycle.

I can’t say how long we will go without some type of incentives on the Prius Prime). But it will not be the deep-discounting mode we had as we left the old-generation car.

WardsAuto: Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn talked this morning about EVs. He said that while there’s not much consumer interest in them now, their day will come as the technology advances and government emission standards get stricter. Do you agree with that about EVs?

Lentz: We tend to differ from other manufacturers. We think EVs have their place in lower-range, 50 miles (160 km), smaller vehicles. Prius hybrids and plug-ins  still will be our mainstay. We’re also betting a lot on hydrogen.

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