In just seven years, 14% of new cars sold in Europe will be petrol-electric hybrids, compared with just 0.006% now, according to Toyota.
The Japanese manufacturer claims that 50,000 of the 300,000 hybrids sold every year in Europe by that time will be one of its own vehicles, and it begins its three-pronged attack (including a vehicle from Lexus) this year with an all-new version of the Prius.
This is a huge leap in confidence when you consider that about 115,000 Prius models have been sold worldwide since 1997 – about 4,000 in Europe and 1,200 in the UK. However, with Honda changing its focus to the volume lower-medium sector with its new Civic IMA, Toyota is convinced that an increasing number of new car buyers will be won over by the new generation of hybrid vehicles that do not compromise the driving experience and packaging.
Although Honda's Civic IMA recently joined the current Prius in the lower-medium sector, the new Prius will be firmly in the upper-medium sector, rivalling 'clean' diesels like the Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo, Renault Laguna, Citroen C5 and Toyota's own Avensis.
It seems that in the planning stages Toyota went about eliminating all the reasons customers might decide against choosing the Prius.
The new car is larger, with a roomier interior and while the current Prius stands out as a dowdy four-door sedan, the new model is a Euro-friendly coupe-like five-door hatchback.
It now looks far more dynamic (a number of people in customer clinics described its appearance as 'futuristic'), while the rear end treatment has a look of Mercedes C-class Sport Coupe about it.
Toyota claims the new Prius will be a profitable vehicle, thanks to higher volume reducing the cost of components, while other parts are shared with sister models. The front suspension comes from the new Avensis, while the rear suspension is derived from the Corolla.
As well as an uprated engine and a more powerful yet more compact battery, Toyota promises greater driver appeal from the new Prius. The existing model is not really set up for driving enjoyment, with minuscule 14-inch wheels and slack steering, while its claimed time for 0-62mph is 13.4 seconds.
Toyota's new Hybrid Synergy Drive system debuts in the new Prius, promising to slice close to three seconds off the sprint benchmark, while engineers promise greater steering feel and feedback. Wheels have been upgraded to 16 inches (although on this larger Prius they would look better for being even bigger) and acceleration, gearshifting and braking are all electronic, with no mechanical linkage. Even the air conditioning runs off the battery, allowing it to operate without the engine running.
Manabu Morisaka, general manager of planning for Toyota front-wheel drive cars, said: 'Thanks to the higher voltages provided by the new hybrid system, we have been able to equip the new car with a far larger variety of drive-by-wire technologies than has previously been seen in a production car.
'Metal rods and gear levers have been replaced with wires and electrical connections, provided there is enough power to operate them fully.'
In Toyota's presentation, a graph was flashed up to illustrate that the acceleration in the Prius is much smoother than in the Camry 2.4 automatic.
And despite being larger and more powerful, Toyota is promising better fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions than before. Its target of 100g/km for CO2 (although insiders admit that Toyota might settle for 103g/km) would be equivalent to a combined fuel consumption figure of around 70mpg. As well as defaulting to the electric motor at low speeds, the motor can also be selected by the driver for a limited period.
However, Toyota claims that despite its reliance on new technology, the Prius is at least as reliable as its best-selling Corolla, and would have lower warranty costs than the Avensis.
Interior quality reflects the upmarket feel of more recent Toyotas like the Avensis and Land Cruiser, and there is genuine five-seat capability, although rear headroom is tight for six-footers. While passenger space is on a par with the upper-medium sector, luggage space is compromised by having to store the battery. However, folding the rear seats can extend the flat load area and lifting the floor cover in the boot reveals a handy extra storage compartment.
Toyota believes increased interest in hybrids and its forthcoming D-CAT diesel system will add to the attraction of its green credentials.
Hiroyuki Watanabe, Toyota senior managing director, said: 'In order to properly evaluate the impact of CO2 emissions and the greenhouse effect, we need to introduce a lifecycle assessment, which is a quantitative evaluation through the model life of a vehicle, from material manufacturing and fuel production to disposal and recycling of a car. By doing this, we can monitor both resources and energy used, as well as their impact on the environment.
'Our research shows that if a typical petrol engine is given an index of 1.0, a state-of-the-art manual diesel achieves 0.67, while the current Prius rates 0.63. 'While an accurate index cannot be given, the expected index of a fuel cell hybrid is in the range 0.6-0.8. If the manufacturing process of hydrogen improved, the index would be 0.6.
'Our ultimate goal is 0.33 – one third of the current gasoline engine level – in order to solve environmental issues. This ambitious target should apply for all of gasoline, diesel and hydrogen fuel cell.
'Having said that, Prius is running ahead with the lowest index of 0.57. It is already an important milestone toward reaching the goal.'
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol plus electric motor
Max power (bhp/rpm): engine 77/5,000; motor 67/1,200-1,540
Max torque (lb-ft/rpm): engine 85/4,200; motor 295/0-1,200
0-62mph: under 11 sec*
Fuel consumption (mpg): 70mpg*
CO2 emissions (g/km): 100*
On sale: November
Price (estimated): £18,000
* target figures