Toyota is putting an all-new Prius hybrid on the road, hoping the sleeker car retooled for fun will put the brakes on falling sales.
Toyota unveiled the 2016 Prius late Tuesday in a glitzy world premiere in Las Vegas, a fourth-generation model with a runner-inspired shape and smarter technology.
"Prius set the global benchmark for hybrids, but now is breaking its own boundaries with more engaging style and fun-to-drive dynamics," said Bill Fay, group vice president and general manager, Toyota Division.
The exterior has been lengthened, the hood and rear spoiler lowered, and "character lines" trace the sides from the front fenders, in what Toyota describes as a sporty design conveying "a feeling of forward motion".
"What was once a rational purchase that for many customers focused on fuel economy, is now so much more," Fay said.
"This Prius will invite new drivers into the category by delivering an impressive look and feel, built on the foundation of safety and eco-consciousness that define the vehicle's heritage."
The new Prius is 2.4 inches (6.1 centimeters) longer, 0.6 inches wider and 0.8 inches lower than the model it replaces.
Toyota created a new, vibrant exterior color, "Hypersonic Red", to join six others in the Prius palette. The interior has form-hugging seats and a wraparound dash to give drivers greater visibility.
Built with smaller, lighter system components, higher performing batteries and an improved engine, the new Prius is expected to save an extra 10 percent in fuel efficiency, the Japanese automaker said.
"Prius will offer best-in-class fuel economy among vehicles without a plug," Toyota said.
- Cheap gas hits sales -
Prius, introduced almost 20 years ago, was the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle coupling a gasoline engine and an electric motor, delivering higher fuel economy and fewer emissions than conventional cars.
But sales have fallen in recent years amid increased competition from other hybrids and electric vehicles. The sharp fall in gasoline prices in the past year has further pressured sales of "green" vehicles as US car buyers revive their love affair with larger, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles.
Last week Toyota reported nearly a nine percent fall in US vehicle sales in August, including a 24 percent dive in Prius sales.
"The fourth-generation Prius is debuting at the right time for Toyota. With the aged outgoing model and low gas prices dragging down sales, the 2016 Prius will be a much-needed shot in the arm for not only Toyota, but the entire green car segment," said Edmunds.com analyst Jeremy Acevedo.
The broader appeal of the new design could capture new customers, the analyst said.
"But more importantly, it has the potential to reinvigorate the loyalty of Prius owners who now find many more affordable hybrid and EV options on the market than they had five years ago."
The Prius launch in the Nevada gaming mecca came as electric vehicle competitor Tesla builds the world's biggest battery factory outside Sparks in the northern part of the state.
Tesla owner Elon Musk teamed up with Japanese firm Panasonic and others to create the "Gigafactory" for production of lithium ion batteries to meet Tesla's projected strong demand for its plug-in cars: Tesla estimates it will build 500,000 cars per year in the latter half of the decade.