ORLANDO, FLORIDA -- The all-new 2010 Toyota Prius, on sale in a few months, is nothing if not high-tech. Fall asleep at the wheel and a buzzer will sound as soon as you cross the lane divide. Press a button and a display appears at eye level, keeping you focused on the road. Got allergies? Don't worry; the Prius' Plasmafilter (previously available on the Camry Hybrid) makes sure pollen isn't headed your way.
Another interesting option, especially for the car's many green customers, is a rooftop solar panel that powers a fan, keeping your car's interior fresh while parked.
None of this stuff would matter if the Prius didn't deliver on its basic promise of incredible fuel economy in a practical package. The good news is that Toyota didn't mess with success -- the new car's basic layout is much like the old, only better. Instead of 46 mpg combined, the 2010 model offers 50. It also has slightly more power with more interior and luggage space.
Toyota, which employed 2,000 engineers in the task, went on a relentless campaign to lighten the car and its various components, shaving pounds off the engine, battery pack and inverter. To improve fuel economy, belt drives were abolished -- even the water pump is now electrically driven. Air flow was also improved, giving the marginally more angular car an impressive .25 coefficient of drag.
Toyota showed pictures of its business-suited executives planting trees around the Japanese Prius factory, which gets 50% of its power from solar. The company really wants its customers to know that the Prius is green.
Hybrid sales have been hit hard by the recession, but Toyota still hopes to sell 100,000 new Priuses in 2009, and 180,000 in 2010. A big question mark in achieving that goal is price, which is so far unannounced. But with the $19,800 Honda Insight arriving on dealer lots, the pressure is on to keep the Prius affordable. Toyota may be willing to lose a little money to keep its market pre-eminence: more than half of all the hybrids on U.S. roads are Toyota Priuses.
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