Toyota is looking to make hybrids into a luxury option. By setting up hybrids, like the new Crown Hybrid in Japan, as top of the line, Toyota is hoping to create hybrids as luxury models.
This may be in response to who the typical hybrid car buyers are: older, upper middle class, etc... Of course, that may be because that's who can afford the hybrid technology in the first place, so it may be a matter of who came first, the chicken or the egg.
But despite the premise of this story from autonews, selling hybrids as luxury vehicles is nothing new. Most hybrids come with some of the latest options, like fobs that allow you to open and start the car without using a key, nav systems, etc...
Also, note all the hybrid models from Lexus, and how Ford came out with a Mercury Mariner Hybrid. And Nissan has said their first homegrown hybrid will most likely be an Infiniti model. GM's new hybrid models with the dual mode hybrid system will all be oversized, luxury SUV hybrids.
Just the other day, PSA announced they will be developing their own hybrid diesel cars into the more expensive vehicles. This was in response to a block of a project in public funding to develop a hybrid vehicle system along with Continental, Bosch, Valeo and Thyssen-Krupp. PSA had hoped the hybrid diesel platform would be in use for the Peugeot 308 in 2010. Now they've been delayed until 2011.
It's because of the high cost of developing hybrid technology that production has been limited, despite the ever rising popularity of hybrid cars. Ford claims it will only be this year they will make a profit on their hybrid lineup. Nissan CEO Ghosn has claimed he hates building hybrid cars because he hates selling any car for a loss.
By passing hybrids off as a luxury model, automakers are looking to pass off the extra cost of a hybrid system to the buyer, rather than having to eat the costs themselves.
One other side note from autonews about Toyota. Toyota is still hoping to integrate hybrid technology into more of their line-up. To do so, they need the platforms themselves to capable of handling the hybrid system:
Another element of Toyota's hybrid push will be phasing in versatile platforms that can accommodate both a conventional drivetrain and a hybrid one.
All newly introduced platforms will be dual-use, said Shinichi Matsumoto, Toyota's general manager for hybrid vehicle engineering. Only four of Toyota's 11 passenger-car platforms can now swap conventional and hybrid powertrains.
Having dual-use platforms will allow Toyota to add hybrid versions in the midlife of a model series without waiting for a complete redesign, Matsumoto said.
" We are going to be introducing new hybrid models and expanding sales of current hybrids into new countries," he said. " Our production of hybrids is increasing very sharply, and this tendency will continue next year."