With a litre of gas selling for $1.77 or more in some parts of this great country – North Vancouver, in this case – you’d think that demand for thrifty gasoline-electric hybrids would be through the roof.
Sure enough, the automaker most closely associated with hybrids saw them fly off the lot in August: Toyota Prius sales surged 105 per cent, year-on-year (1,175 sold), and the reinvented RAV4 jumped 80.2 per cent (1,249 sold). Overall, Toyota Canada sold 3,454 hybrid electric vehicles in August, a record.
It might very well be that the sting of carbon taxes and other surcharges, combined with the reality of climate change and its threat to our planet, are starting to hit home with Canadians. That may explain why Toyota Canada’s hybrid sales were up 60 per cent last month.
Think about this: one of every six Canadians who bought a Toyota last month, went hybrid. Or to put it another way, Toyota Canada sold more Toyota hybrids than BMW Canada sold vehicles of all sorts, period.
I mulled this over as a took the Corolla Hybrid for a run. It’s one of seven different Toyota brand hybrid models sold in Canada. Only two of them wear the “Prius” tag. The basic hatchback model starts at $28,550, while the bare-bones Prius c starts at $22,260. The Corolla Hybrid falls in the middle of these two, at $24,790. (Note: Toyota’s Lexus luxury brand offers another seven hybrid models, all vastly more expensive.)
You’re not surprised to see that Toyota Canada offers 14 hybrid models. We all know that Toyota has for more than two decades been pushing hybrid technology as the most effective, most affordable, most reliable “green” automotive technology. Toyota’s cars now account for 80 per cent of global hybrid sales.
Indeed, for most of that time, Toyota globally has eschewed pure battery electric vehicles (EVs). Even now, the Prius Prime hybrid is the only plug-in offered by Toyota in Canada.
Toyota officials have long argued that Prius-like hybrids are the best short-term and even medium-term green solution. Hybrids, Toyota has long said, are an effective alternative to much pricier all-battery EVs, which also come with various range and re-charging challenges.
The Toyota position is simple enough to summarize: a hybrid delivers roughly double the fuel efficiency of a similar gasoline car, at a lower cost. Hybrids don’t need a charging infrastructure and there is no range anxiety, either.
Alas, the sex appeal of hybrids – if such a thing ever existed for the favourite of taxi drivers all over – no longer exists. Pure, all-battery EVs (electric vehicles) are hot now. Toyota is finally recognizing reality.
About time. Toyota has fallen dangerously behind rivals such as Nissan Motor, Volkswagen and Tesla in bringing all-battery EVs to showrooms. Ditto for plug-in hybrid, though there is that Prius Prime as Toyota’s exception, not the rule.
And so, this summer, Toyota, with great fanfare, said it’s juicing its electrification plan. The goal is to sell 5.5 million traditional hybrids, plug-in hybrids, EVs and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) by 2025. If all goes well, about one million of them will be pure EVs.
Those of you in the know will be wondering what’s happened to Toyota’s long-running commitment to FCVs. Here, Toyota is attempting to thread a needle.
That is, FCVs remain the ultimate zero-emissions vehicles of the future, as they have been since the late 1990s. Of course, I’ve been chronicling this claim since Canada’s Ballard Power Systems was touting shares to investors, making promises never kept and causing great damage to the reputation of FCVs.
At a June press event, Shigeki Terashi, Toyota’s r&d chief, denied that Toyota has changed its policy regarding battery EVs, however.
“We are not shifting our focus to prioritize battery EVs, nor are we abandoning our FCV strategy,” he said, as reported in multiple outlets. We are left to believe, then, that Toyota is just adding a battery EV push to its existing fuel cell and hybrid plans. Toyota, the world’s richest automaker, can afford to do it all and apparently will.
If and when Toyota goes all Tesla on us, what’s certain is that your best fuel-saving option RIGHT NOW is a hybrid. Indeed, I drove that Corolla Hybrid for nearly a week and spent just $27.51 to fill up on regular ($1.54.9/litre). The in-car readout told me I could expect 1,001 km of range on a full tank of fuel. (Toyota says fuel efficiency is rated at 4.4 city/4.5 hwy in litres/100 km.)
Shoppers who are familiar with the Corolla will not be surprised by the Corolla Hybrid and they’ll love annual fuel savings head-to-head that amount to $600-$800 a year, depending on the fluctuating price of gas and how much you drive. This is a solid compact sedan, with four doors, adequate seats, a big trunk and a back seat capable of handling two adults, as long as they’re not too hefty.
Yes, the extra weight of the hybrid bits turns an already lumpy Corolla into something of a small and heavy beast with lumbering road manners. But I became accustomed to the lumpiness and danced with joy at painless fill-up price. The car itself is really well finished inside and out. Of course, it is. This is what Toyota does.
To sweeten the deal and justify the price (the base gasoline-only Corolla starts at just under $19,000), Toyota has emptied the goodies bin into the hybrid – from a very adequate sound system with six speakers to a glass-imprinted antenna. If you take the $2,000 Premium Package, you get leather, heated seats all around, lots of other stuff, and even wireless smartphone charging.
Look, Toyota’s track record suggests that the Corolla Hybrid will keep chugging along for perhaps 15 years, relatively if not totally trouble-free. In a third of that time, your fuel savings will pay off the hybrid price premium.
The pure logic of it all suggests that this hybrid or some other might be the best or at least the most affordable option for the climate-sensitive car buyer here in 2019. Toyota certainly has thought so for decades, though bowing to pressure, the company will soon offer a range of pure EVs, too.
2020 Toyota Corolla Hybrid
Base price: $24,790. As tested, all fees included: $28,566.40.
Powertrain: gas engine a 1.8-litre four-cylinder paired with Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive.
Transmission: continuously variable.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 4.4 city/4.5 hwy.