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First look: Toyota shows its next-gen hybrid hand

X marks the spot: Hybrid X heralds a new design language for all Toyotas.

Hybrid X concept previews a proud new design direction for Toyota and the next Prius

13 Mar 2007

HONDA may have gone for a sleek, compact sports coupe body within which to show off its next step in petrol-electric vehicle technology (under the predictably literal title "Honda Small Hybrid Concept") but, equally true to form, its Japanese hybrid arch-rival came to last week's Geneva motor show with its innocuously styled, less boldly titled but no less significant Toyota Hybrid X.

Wrapped in a low-slung, family-sized wagon bodyshell that looks more like a Tarago than the next-generation Prius, the Hybrid X nonetheless is being touted as a preview of the design direction Toyota's mainstream (and mainstream hybrid) models will head next – just as the HSHC could become the successor for a cheaper, more dynamic successor to Australia's first hybrid, the exclusive 2001 Insight coupe.

Just as Honda continues to offer hybrid technology in the otherwise-standard small Civic sedan (and, within 12 months, the light Jazz hatch), Toyota's luxury division Lexus explores hybrid power's acceptance alongside petrol (and diesel) versions of the GS, LS and RX models.

Now it appears both makers plan on continuing with bespoke designs for their future hybrid flag-wavers.

8 center imageDesigned at Toyota's European design studio in southern France, the four-door Hybrid X "open space concept" rides on a full-sized 2800mm wheelbase, measures 4500mm long, 1850mm wide and 1440mm high.

Despite its external design similarities with the 2006 Fine-T fuel cell hybrid concept, at the heart of Hybrid X lies a revised version of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system that's claimed to be one step closer to zero emissions.

Though it's eminently more practical than Honda's hybrid concept, the Hybrid X nonetheless features 20-inch wheels, LED headlight lamps that integrate with the dashboard and a Spartan, futuristic interior that houses just four foam-injected seats, with the two rear pews swivel by 12 degrees.

The Hybrid X driver can change the car's ambience by controlling the senses of sight, sound, smell and touch – via a variety of adjustable LED cabin lights that are linked to different background music, a perfumed aroma diffuser and a varied range of interior surfaces respectively.

There's also a drive-by-wire steering pad ahead of the driver, alongside a second screen displaying interactive navigation and Bluetooth connectivity, and a third, console-mounted screen to operate entertainment, audio, lighting and climate controls.

According to Toyota: "Hybrid X is an innovative vehicle that conceives how Hybrid Synergy Drive technology can deliver economical, cleaner and more comfortable motoring.

"It is a step closer to Toyota's vision of the ultimate environmental driving technology and its design will influence the entire Toyota brand and its hybrid models in the future." In introducing a new corporate design language, Toyota says Hybrid X "follows the core values of the Toyota brand design philosophy under two consistent themes: J-Factor and Vibrant Clarity.

"J-Factor refers to the local and global acceptance of Japanese-inspired design and cultural form, while Vibrant Clarity is the design language used to express the J-factor.

"Through Vibrant Clarity, designers will infuse future vehicles with a completely original identity and emotional intensity that will be uniquely identifiable as coming from Toyota." Toyota's original 1997 Prius hybrid sedan followed Honda's Insight coupe on sale here in October 2001 and in two years attracted 490 buyers, consisting mainly of government fleets.

It was replaced by the more spacious, more powerful second-generation five-door Prius hatch in November 2003, which was followed by an upgrade in November 2005.

To the end of 2006, Toyota had sold 639,422 Prius models globally (including a record 185,589 in 2006), including more than 280,000 in the US, 200,000 in Japan, 40,000 in Europe and more than 5000 in Australia.

Toyota Australia sold 195 Prius in January 2007 - a 96 per cent increase on the same month in 2006 - and last month announced increased supplies from Japan to meet demand.

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