Believe it or not, there was a time when people in and out of the auto industry had their doubts as to whether hybrid cars would catch on with the public. The supposedly safe method of thought went something along the lines of, "Let's make it look as normal as possible on the outside and pray people will buy it."
After all, Honda's early foray into the hybrid market with the bullet-shaped, rear wheel-skirted Insight model was met with a less-than-enthusiastic consumer response. Even so, automakers dutifully churned out hybrid gasoline-electric versions of their best-sellers, including the Ford Escape SUV, the Honda Civic and Accord and several others. With the exception of an unobtrusive "hybrid" badge here and there, you could barely tell from the outside that anything was different underneath.
However, the second-generation Toyota Prius, introduced in 2003, took the opposite approach. It screamed, "Look at me, I'm green!" With its ovoid body, silent running in electric mode and futuristic mileage display inside, the Toyota Prius was definitely making a statement. And making no apologies, either. Environmentalists loved it. Then as whipsawing gasoline prices began seriously hurting average Americans' pocketbooks in the mid- to late- part of the decade, the general public began to fall in love with it as well.
People wanted to know, how would Toyota follow up such a winner?
Speculation began to center on Toyota's Hybrid X, a radically designed sedan that looks vaguely like a squished and more streamlined Prius. The Hybrid X concept vehicle debuted to the public at the 2007 Geneva International Motor Show. Stuffed with technology meant to make driving more relaxing and environmentally guilt-free, the Hybrid X had observers on the edge of their seats: Would this be the next-generation Prius? Would its "Hybrid Synergy Drive" gasoline-electric hybrid technology make as huge a leap forward as the interior and exterior design obviously had?
Toyota Hybrid X Design
To take a look in and around the Hybrid X, it might appear as if Toyota engineers and designers were simply trying to cram as many "gee-whiz" gadgets into the car as possible. LED lighting, touchscreen interior displays and controls, even a perfume diffuser help contribute to the car's futuristic mystique.
Notably, the designers used very few knobs, buttons or dials, opting instead to give the driver nearly all information and access to controls through the interface of an elegant touchscreen in the dash. Toyota insists all this gadgetry fits in with what the company calls its "Vibrant Clarity" design philosophy. According to Toyota, Vibrant Clarity is "A design ethos grounding all design work in a unique and emotionally vibrant identity that speaks clearly of Toyota. Offering sustainable mobility for modern families, the environmentally advanced technology is another step closer to Toyota's vision of a zero smog-forming emission future" [source: Toyota].
Other notable features of the Hybrid X include:
- See-through roof
- Rearward-opening "suicide doors" for rear passengers
- Lightweight, ergonomically contoured seats
- Swiveling rear seats for more interactive passenger conversation
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Steer-by-wire electronic controls
- Touchscreen interior ambiance adjustment including lighting, music, and even smell
Toyota interior designer Laurent Bouzige said of the car, "Hybrid X is conceived as a multi-sensory experience. There is a formal style in the shape of the vehicle and the material used but every other reaction is linked to the passengers' senses of sound, smell, sight and touch through interactive ambience" [source: Left Lane].
It so turns out that the third-generation Prius, introduced as a 2010 model, improves on its predecessor, but is nothing as radically different as the Hybrid X -- the early speculation was a false alarm. That means fans of the Hybrid X will have to wait some while longer before a production version faithful to the concept car goes on sale -- if ever.
If it's any consolation, anyone enamored of the Hybrid X should keep in mind that concept cars often signal design or technology elements that a car company intends to use in the near future, even if the specific model never enters production. So don't give up just yet on that "smell diffuser" appearing in your next vehicle.
For more information about the Toyota Hybrid X and other hybrid car technology, follow the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Can hybrid engines create more power?
- How can hybrid cars utilize solar power?
- How much does it cost to replace a hybrid battery?
- How Hybrid Cars Work
- How the 2010 Honda Insight Hybrid Works
- How the Ford Escape SUV Works
- How the Honda Civic Hybrid Works
- How the Toyota Prius Works
- How Hybrid System Indicators Work
- LED Headlights - Now Available to the Rest of Us
- How Bluetooth Car Stereos Work
- How Drive-by-wire Technology Works
- What's the difference between the Prius and the Prius Touring?
- Garrett, Jerry. "2009 Prius: Not So Fast." The New York Times. June 19, 2007. (June 14, 2009) http://wheels.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/06/19/2009-prius-not-so-fast/
- Toyota.com. "Hybrid X -- Sustainable mobility for modern families." (June 10, 2009) http://www.toyota.com/concept-vehicles/hybridx.html
- Swan, Tony. "Toyota Hybrid X Concept - Auto Shows. Is this the next Prius?" Car and Driver. March 2007. (June 13, 2009) http://www.caranddriver.com/reviews/hot_lists/car_shopping/green_machines/toyota_hybrid_x_concept_auto_shows
- Hybridcars.com. "Toyota Hybrid X." (June 13, 2009) http://www.hybridcars.com/concept-hybrids/toyota-hybrid-x.html
- Left Lane News. "Toyota Hybrid X Concept." Mar. 6, 2007. (June 12, 2009) http://www.leftlanenews.com/toyota-hybrid-x-concept.html
- BusinessWeek. "Toyota Takes Europe -- By Design." July 10, 2006. (June 14, 2009) http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/jul2006/id20060710_858167.htm