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Toyota to move hybrids upscale?

by Drew Johnson

Although Toyota doesn't sell its Crown sedan in the U.S., its launch yesterday in Japan gives us an indication of what to expect from future Toyota hybrid models. Toyota plans to use hybrids as the range-topping trim level throughout its entire vehicle lineup.

The launch of the Crown hybrid sedan is just the first step in establishing the powertrain as the earmark of the most premium model. In addition to the hybrid powertrain, future Toyota hybrid models will also feature a number amenities not offered on lesser models.

For example, the Crown Hybrid commands a $21,600 premium over the non-hybrid model, but also includes a range of extra electronic gadgetry. Some of the extras found on the Crown Hybrid include an LCD instrument panel and a night-vision pedestrian detector.

"Right now, that's how the strategy is looking," Shigeki Terashi, executive chief engineer at Toyota's product development group, told Automotive News. " We'll add some extra features onto the hybrid to establish it as the superior grade."

In addition, Toyota's future lineup will utilize dual-platform architecture which will allow every vehicle to have a hybrid counterpart. Moreover, the architecture would allow some vehicles to receive a hybrid powertrain during its normal lifecycle, rather than waiting for an all-new model to bow.

The news that Toyota is planning to move its hybrid models upscale is a bit surprising, given their green, thrifty image. Toyota already makes one $100,000+ hybrid -- the Lexus LS600h -- but is best know for its rather affordable Prius sedan.

Honda is taking the opposite approach with its future hybrids and is preparing to launch an affordable hybrid-only model.