Toyota’s strategy for selling new hybrid models resembles the Trojan horse, carrying a new model into the market within a familiar package. The automaker announced last week that the 2013 Avalon sedan will be available with gas and hybrid-electric drive trains. The Toyota Technical Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan developed the advanced hybrid system used in the 2013 Avalon. Toyota plans production of both versions of the Avalon at a facility in Georgetown, Kentucky. A glimpse at the performance details for the 2013 Avalon highlights Toyota’s slow but steady approach to expanding hybrid sales beyond the Prius.
The 2013 Avalon Hybrid features a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine along with a 204-cell nickel metal hydride (NiMH) battery pack. A pair of electric motors stationed along the axle rounds out a drive system capable of producing 149kW. The front motor restarts the engine at full stops and generates power for the batteries while the rear motor works with the regenerative braking system. Toyota estimates a fuel economy rating of 40 miles per gallon with a city rating of 40 MPG and 39 MPG on the highway.
Avalon Hybrid owners can customize their driving experiences with three drive modes as well as a six-speed automatic transmission. The EV mode allows the 2013 Avalon Hybrid to travel up to one mile at 25 miles per hour using battery power. Drivers interested in maximum fuel economy switch to the ECO mode, which transfers power from climate control and steering to the electric motors. The Sport mode takes advantage of high-performance steering and engine power at the expense of fuel economy. A six-speed automatic transmission seamlessly shifts at higher speeds though Toyota installed a manual option for serious motorists.
The standard version of the 2013 Avalon eschews fuel economy for a more traditional driving experience. A 3.5-liter V6 engine provides more than enough power for traditionalists with a peak output of 200kW. This model hits 60 MPH from a full stop in less than seven seconds based on early testing. Toyota notes that the standard model has a fuel economy rating of 25 MPG achieved with 21 MPG in the city and 31 MPG on the highway. Drivers do not have access to the EV mode but Toyota added the ECO and Sport modes to the standard drive system.
Toyota could succeed by pairing hybrid and standard versions of the 2013 Avalon though this hardly advances the company’s hybrid bona fides. Hybrid offerings including the Prius and Camry Hybrid were cutting edge only a few years ago as competitors stuck to their guns. The automaker also developed prototypes powered by electricity and natural gas that appeared on the motor show circuit. In the past five years, however, competitors like Nissan and Chevy have joined the fray with models more advanced than the Prius. The 2013 Toyota Avalon shows why Toyota is in danger of falling behind in the green vehicle market. A meager fuel economy differential between versions as well as a high retail price leaves consumers wondering if this is the same company that developed the Prius.