In 2000, Toyota pioneered a new kind of vehicle in North America – the Prius. In the 10 years since the hybrid electric Prius has been available, nearly 900,000 people have purchased the car in the U.S. alone with more than 1.8 million being sold worldwide.

According to Toyota, U.S. Prius drivers have conserved approximately 650 million gallons of gasoline, prevented an estimated nine million tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere and saved about 1.5 billion dollars in fuel costs to date.

When the first Prius came to North America in July 2000, the success story of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit was the Hummer H2. National gasoline prices that year averaged about $1.50 per gallon, and Prius sales were expected not to exceed 12,000. Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales explains why Toyota pushed ahead plans to bring Prius to the North American market.

“Toyota recognized in the 1990s that sustainable transportation would become a huge challenge in the coming decades,” said Lentz. “Those realizations proved accurate, and if anything, even more profound considering what we know today.”

In fact, the market was quite ready for Prius even in 2000. Prius owners became articulate advocates for the car’s new technology. In addition, rising fuel costs began to paint a clear economic rationale for purchasing a more fuel efficient car. Soon, demand quickly outstripped the supply, and production had to be ramped up as waiting lists became months long. Now, the third generation Prius is the world’s best-selling hybrid electric vehicle.

Prior to 2004 when the company’s Hybrid Synergy Drive System was introduced in the second generation, the Prius got an estimated 41 EPA combined miles per gallon (MPG). The third generation 2011 Prius raises the bar with an estimated 50 EPA combined MPG.

Other features set the 2011 Prius apart as well. In addition to four driving modes, the cars feature an Advanced Guidance Parking System and steering wheel touch controls that display on the instrument panel. The 2011 Prius also has a moon roof equipped with solar panels that power a ventilation system designed to cool the interior when the car is parked in the sun.

Many more improvements may exist for the Prius and its Hybrid Synergy Drive, but one significant advancement, the Prius Plug-In Hybrid (PHV), is already coming. A fleet of Prius plug-in cars is currently in a global demonstration program aimed at proving the capabilities of the cars and fine tuning the design. A commercial Prius PHV is scheduled to go on sale in 2012.

Prius drivers continue to be integral to the car’s decade-long success story. For Toyota’s 10-year celebration of Prius in North America, dealerships are hosting events across the country on 10.10.10. One such event, the company’s 10 Years of Toyota Prius Anniversary Celebration, will be held in Southern California and is being hosted in the town of the most passionate Prius fan selected from a summer-long contest on Toyota’s Facebook page.


The 2011 Prius still retains the iconic wedge shape even after a decade in the North American market. Credit: Toyota

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