TOKYO -- The next-generation Toyota Prius hybrid, due next year, will pull technology straight from the endurance racing circuit.
Toyota Motor Corp., which leads this season's manufacturers' championship, is testing technology to be used in the Prius in its high-performance TS040 Hybrid Le Mans racer.
"Our components already have parts from the next-generation Prius," Yoshiaki Kinoshita, president of Toyota Motorsport GmbH, said in a telephone interview.
Kinoshita declined to identify the components. But he said they were microchips and microcontrollers, not mechanical parts. The components are preproduction prototypes being tested for endurance over extended periods under extreme conditions.
A main goal of the technology is to improve fuel efficiency.
That is critical to track success under revised FIA World Endurance Championship rules, which put a premium on fuel economy.
Toyota re-engineered its car for the 2014 season to cut fuel consumption 25 percent from the 2013 car, the TS030. The new car, the TS040, also gets a four-wheel-drive hybrid drivetrain.
Despite using less fuel, the TS040 also achieves higher horsepower: 1,000 hp compared with the TS030's 750 hp.
While Toyota races to win, the Japanese carmaker also uses its Le Mans program as a laboratory for its hybrid engineers.
The team has about a dozen hybrid engineers, all Japanese. But only about half of them are permanent. The other half rotate through on six-month stints to take lessons learned at the track back to the production car tech center in Toyota City.
Kinoshita said one technology that won't migrate from the TS040 to the Prius anytime soon is the race car's power storage system. The racer uses supercapacitors, not batteries, to instantaneously recoup its huge surge of braking energy and release it quickly for a burst of acceleration.
The energy storage system on the racer, for example, needs to capture energy as the car brakes from 186 mph to 60 mph in about 3 seconds. A street car takes much longer than that just to come to a complete stop from 37 mph.
Because a street car doesn't need to handle the same high-energy flow, Toyota's battery technology is sufficient for the job in the Prius, Kinoshita said.
The TS040's four-wheel-drive hybrid technology, however, may have applications in the next Prius.
Toyota also said in May it had developed a semiconductor that can boost hybrid fuel efficiency by as much as 10 percent.
The advancement comes in the semiconductors that manage the flow of electricity through the power control unit that integrates a hybrid vehicle's battery, motor and generator.
Toyota said it aims to commercialize the so-called silicon carbide semiconductors around 2020. But in the meantime, the company is looking for ways to reduce energy loss in the car's electrical system.