TOYOTA CITY, Japan — When a Toyota Prius drives down the street, most people instantly recognize it as the world's best-selling hybrid. But a Toyota Camry Hybrid? A lot of people wouldn't know it's another top-rated green vehicle.
That image problem is one reason that the distinctive-looking Prius has sold nearly 140,000 units in America this year, while the Camry Hybrid is still shy of 40,000.
Toyota Motor Corp. wants to change that by unifying the design of all future hybrids. The new look, in its final stages of development, must scream green as well as Toyota.
Details have not been made public. But Toyota's chief designer, Wahei Hirai, gave a peek to Automotive News here. Future hybrids will draw from the aerodynamic shape of the Prius but have more free-form angles and lines in the body panels to add a more high-tech look.
"We already have some kind of design hypothesis that we'd like to use, and we need to find out whether it is well-accepted in the market," Hirai said in an interview. "We'd like to use that kind of design language in each hybrid car."
The basic principle is to steer from having a hybrid car that looks identical to the conventional gasoline version of the same model.
Future Camry Hybrids, for example, might entail different styling in the grille, bumpers or headlights — or different parts that broadcast green credentials, Hirai said.
"People like to buy it because they like to advertise 'I am interested in the environment.' So currently the Camry doesn't appeal very much," he said. "They prefer Prius because, while they are driving in town, people can understand that the driver has more social awareness."