TOKYO -- The fourth-generation Toyota Prius, the car that made "hybrid" a household word, won't arrive for at least another year. But emerging details paint a picture of a car that could be a breakthrough on multiple fronts: design, technology and manufacturing.
But it won't be a breakthrough for Toyota Motor Corp. in hybrid production outside Japan. It looks increasingly unlikely that the next Prius will be built in North America anytime soon.
This month, Toyota executives shed more light on the car, saying engineers aim to equip it with powerful and lightweight lithium ion batteries and a new, ultra-efficient gasoline engine.
The new engine will achieve thermal efficiency rates above 40 percent, compared with a maximum of 38.5 percent in the current Prius -- the best in Toyota's fleet. Higher efficiency means more energy from internal combustion is captured to power the wheels and less is lost through heat.
The next Prius also will pioneer Toyota's new modular product development push, which targets mass commonization for versatile engineering and low-cost, flexible manufacturing.