- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Toyota's Prius adds two doors and more to the hybrid market.
In all candor, American car buyers just do not seem to be ready to accept a vehicle powered by an alternative fuel source. And so it seems, that attitude is also found throughout the vehicle manufacturing industry.
Many auto manufacturers are diligently working at engineering an alternative to the power derived solely from an internal-combustion engine. However, only a handful of them has a vehicle on the market today. Of those, not one is available without substantial financial help from the manufacturer.
Toyota acknowledges they are losing money on each Prius they sell, but are looking forward to the day when they can say that isn't the case.
There are two vehicles on the market today that combine internal-combustion engines with electric motors in deriving power. The one I most recently drove was the Toyota Prius. Though this vehicle has been available in Japan for more than two years, it is just now coming to the United States in left-hand drive.
The Prius uses a 1.5-liter gasoline-fueled engine amalgamate with an AC electric motor. Combined, the two produce just 114 horsepower, 70 from the gasoline engine and 44 from the electric motor.
This isn't so bad when you weigh the possibilities. You can get, according to Toyota, as much as 52 miles per gallon. The idea of using a combination of internal-combustion engine and electric motor has been around for decades, but the technology we have at our fingertips has made it practical and economically viable.
Toyota puts a little different spin on the idea by using the electric motor as its basic power source and the gas engine as an assist power source and to charge the batteries. The technology found in the engine lowers emissions by one-half and gains the Prius Super Low Emissions Vehicle status.
Designed by Toyota's CALTY Design studio located in Newport Beach, Calif., the exterior design is every bit as contemporary as you would expect for such an innovative vehicle. I liken it to the look you would probably see running around the streets of Tokyo.
In 2 and 1/2 years Toyota has already sold more than 35,000 vehicles in Japan. While the exterior is smaller, Toyota designers have thoughtfully given the interior the spaciousness to make four adults comfortable. This design carries over to the unique and functional instrument panel and dashboard. Here Toyota has mounted the instruments that would normally be directly in front of the driver, high in the center of the dash, supposedly making quick glances at the instruments less of a deterrent from watching the road.
The biggest surprise I got from driving the vehicle was the amount of interior space in the Prius. Not only does this car have excellent passenger room, according to Toyota you can even get four golf bags in the trunk. I didn't try that test, but be assured I will if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity.
The front bucket seats are quite supportive. Not in a sport-seat-wrap-you-up kind of way, but will keep you comfortable for the long haul. You must keep in mind that even though this vehicle is state of the art in technology, it's an economy vehicle and doesn't equal your leather-indulgent luxo-barge.
Nonetheless, you will enjoy the passenger compartment. I was equally surprised at the leg- and headroom afforded by the rear bench seat. The Prius may not be for everyone, and it may not hold the final answer to our transportation needs, but it is a step in the right direction for alternative power.
The big plus is that it is available right now, so you don't have to wait.

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