DETROIT -- Is it the next Prius? Well, sort of.
Toyota Motor Corp. claims its NS4 concept unveiled here represents a dedicated plug-in hybrid "separate from the Prius family," but as a mid-sized vehicle, its footprint is basically the same as the existing Prius.
And engineers say that the technologies shown on the concept likely will filter down to the next generation of Toyota hybrid vehicles, including the Prius.
But NS4 project manager Tomohiko Shishido noted that the vehicle is a Toyota Motor concept, rather than a Toyota brand concept, meaning the hybrid sedan could actually carry a Lexus badge when it reaches production in 2015.
The NS4 features a next-generation hybrid system with smaller and lighter components, and with better fuel economy and greater range in pure-electric mode, Toyota said in a statement.
That probably means lithium ion batteries. But Shishido said that battery technologies are evolving so quickly that another type of battery could be ready by the time the car reaches production.
So, how will this affect the design of the next-generation Prius?
Tokuo Fukuichi, head of design for Toyota Motor Corp., said Toyota is considering a new platform for the next-generation Prius. He said the current generation Prius has a relatively high center of gravity.
But lowering the engine location and cowl point presents a difficult engineering challenge. The NS4 is the first attempt to make that architecture happen.
Yoshihiro Sawa, Toyota's advanced design director, said the Prius' triangle shape will be maintained with a new vehicle.
He believes current green vehicle designs are "boring and a compromise," and wants to see Toyota inject emotion into the hybrid vehicle segment with more exciting styling.
Inside, the NS4 will use a multitouch screen that reduces driver distraction. In addition to telematics functions, the screen will learn driver preferences and habits to anticipate driver responses in specific environments and situations.
Also, the NS4 has several new glass technologies from supplier Asahi Glass Co., including anti-ultraviolet, anti-solar, anti-fog and raindrop-elimination features.