Toyota Motor’s newest Prius hybrid will soon go on sale and when it does, Toyota, the world’s biggest automaker, must send Volkswagen AG a bottle of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1998. A $2,000 (US) bottle of bubble would be a lovely gesture, a classy thank you for VW’s unplanned contributions toward making the next Prius a great success.

The Prius, you see, will get a tidy boost from the fact VW has discredited small, fuel efficient, “clean” diesels. Until we have proof to the contrary, small diesels are not a clean small-car option. For the best in clean efficiency, the ultimate choice is a hybrid and the premier hybrid is the Prius.

How quickly things have changed. Just a few months ago, the diesel Golf had been positioned as a formidable “green” rival to the Prius. Indeed, until the award was rescinded, the Golf had been a Green Car of the Year winner. VW’s mendacity has taken diesel off the table for buyers shopping for fuel efficiency and low emissions.

To be fair to the Prius, the reinvented version heading to showrooms is a vast improvement over the current model, which itself has been a paragon of reliable, clean, efficient dullness. Even without VW’s diesel mess, this new Prius looks poised to reclaim the “green” space.

Better still, the next Prius does not look like a bare-bones taxicab. Toyota is also promising more athletic responses thanks to an all-new platform and a more rigid body structure. The hybrid system is lighter and more efficient and fuel efficiency will increase by 15 per cent in part thanks to smaller batteries and new electric motors and inverters.

Let’s add that the Prius is more than just a new hybrid, too. The Prius for now remains the most visible part of Toyota’s very long “green” game, but it’s really just a small piece of a 35-year strategy stretching to 2050. The goal is to slice carbon dioxide out of vehicle emissions by 90 per cent by 2050. No one envisioned such grand plans back in 1997 when the first Prius hit showrooms.

As Automotive News reports, Toyota Motor aims to sell 1.5 million hybrids annually with the arrival of this Prius – up from about 1.2 million now. By 2020, Toyota’s cumulative hybrid sales will reach 15 million. This means another 7.0 million hybrids sold between now and then. On top of that, Toyota wants to sell 30,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020.

Toyota’s green strategy is outlined in the Toyota Environmental Challenge 2050. Aside from vehicles, Toyota factory emissions will drop to zero in that time frame. Toyota has stated clearly that the intention is to become the world’s No. 1 clean car company.

So gauntlet is now at the feet of the world’s other car companies. In particular, this represents a potentially devastating challenge to VW. The German automotive giant had begun executing its own green plans, with clean diesels and perhaps even diesel hybrids playing significant roles, along with various hybrids and plug-in vehicles.

Now, having admitted to rigging emissions tests, and with questions swirling about the veracity of fuel economy figures for many of its models, VW’s green car ambitions are in tatters. VW now must rebuild its image in the present while facing a formidable future challenge from Toyota, the world’s biggest and richest car company.

I would imagine a $2,000 bottle of Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1998 would be a soothing welcome for VW’s leadership at the end of very long days at company headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany. Though also a painful reminder of how big and how fast things can go wrong in the car business.

There’s a lesson there for Toyota City, too. Not so long ago, Toyota was struggling with its own recall nightmare, one that included more than 10 million vehicles recalled from 2009-2010 alone. Then came the plea bargain with U.S. prosecutors. As a result, Toyota agreed to pay $1.2 billion (US) for “concealing and making deceptive statements” about the unintended acceleration of its vehicles.

There are sobering lessons to be found in the recent histories of both companies. On second thought, perhaps everyone in this business should keep the champagne of ice. Permanently.

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