TOKYO — The fifth-generation Toyota Prius is due next year. A onetime byword for eco-friendly driving, the car that put hybrid vehicles on the minds of shoppers faces a new challenge: how to be relevant in a sea of cutting-edge electric vehicles.
The Prius helped make Toyota Motor Corp. a green car hero when the innovative, quirky compact debuted as the world's first mass-produced electrified car in 1997.
But 25 years later, the car's hybrid drivetrain — which bolts an old-school internal combustion engine onto an electric motor and battery setup — seems oh-so-yesterday among today's offerings.
Just how much have Prius fortunes flagged? Consider this: Global sales of the standard Prius hatchback peaked at 509,380 vehicles in 2010. By last year, it had plunged to just 85,970.
Speculation runs hot in the Japanese motor press about how Toyota will revamp the Prius, the latest incarnation of which, with its heavily creased sheet metal, went on sale in the U.S. in 2016.