Toyota has two important vehicles coming in 2015 - the next-generation Prius hybrid and the company's first hydrogen fuel cell car.
Satoshi Ogiso, a top Toyota engineer who helped develop the original Prius 20 years ago, this week said the new Prius would have significantly better fuel economy than the current 4.7 litres/100km and would have an advanced battery, motor and gas engine combination that would be smaller, lighter and cheaper than the current version.
Ogiso wouldn't reveal the fuel economy, but he's hoping to at least match the 10 per cent gains Toyota has obtained in the last three generations of Priuses.
A 10 per cent gain would get the Prius to 4.2 litres/100km in combined city and highway driving.
"The challenge to continue to improve at this rate, to beat your own record, becomes very difficult but makes it all the more motivating," Ogiso said at an event near Detroit.
"We are very motivated to beat our record."
The new Prius will ride on a lower chassis to improve its handling and aerodynamics, and will also have an improved interior.
Ogiso wouldn't say how much it might cost, but a less expensive hybrid system could help bring down the Prius' US$24,000 ($30,700) price tag. It sells for $50,280 in New Zealand, although the plug-in Prius is not available here.
Toyota hopes the revamped Prius will help it reach its goal of selling five million hybrids in the US by 2016. In July, the company had sold more than two million Toyota and Lexus hybrids, including 1.4 million Prius compact cars, Prius C subcompacts and Prius V wagons.
Toyota's senior vice-president of automotive operations in the US, Bob Carter, said its hybrids had come a long way since the Prius went on sale in the US in 2000, when just over 5500 were sold. Last year, the company sold 236,000 Prius family vehicles.
Carter said that even as the company introduced other technology, including hydrogen fuel cell and electric cars, hybrids would remain at the core of its offerings for at least another 50 years.
"You can take any fuel-efficient technology and extend the range and make it even more efficient with a hybrid," he said.
Ogiso said more details about the hydrogen fuel cell car would come early next year.
Only one other hydrogen fuel cell car is commercially available in the US, Honda's FCX Clarity.
Zero-emission fuel cell cars are not likely to be big sellers until there are more hydrogen fuelling stations on US roads.
But Ogiso said Toyota was committed to the technology.