In the grand scheme of automotive history, hybrids may prove to have been little more than a stopgap in the transition from internal combustion to electric propulsion. But one manufacturer—the one far and away best known for hybrids—is experimenting with a prototype that may, in one part of the world at least, keep the hybrid relevant for longer.
In São Paolo, Brazil, Toyota recently revealed an experimental that doesn’t require a single drop of petroleum to run—and no, it’s not a fully electric version. Described as “the world’s first hybrid flexible-fuel vehicle,” the prototype has an internal-combustion engine converted to run on ethanol. Burning the sugar-cane-based E100 ethanol widely available in Brazil, the Prius prototype would not only do without fossil fuels, it would reduce carbon emissions as well.
The initiative is part of Toyota’s 2050 Environmental Challenge, which aims to reduce its vehicles’ CO2 emissions by 90 percent between 2010 and 2050. By the halfway mark in 2030, the automaker aims to sell more than 5.5 million electrified vehicles per year, including hybrids, plug-in hybrids, battery-electric vehicles, and fuel-cell models. Last year, Toyota sold more than 1.5 million electrified vehicles globally. CEO Akio Toyoda has said that by 2025 every model in the Lexus and Toyota lineup will, at the least, offer an electrified option.
The hybrid FFV prototype is undergoing testing in Brazil to “evaluate the system’s reliability, durability, and powertrain performance.” If all goes well, Toyota could bring a flex-fuel hybrid to market “within a year or two,” spokeswoman Aurelia Vasquez-Wolkin told Car and Driver. “This project steers development of new environmentally friendly technologies that are supported by our hybrid powertrain system and can accommodate other fuels, such as ethanol in Brazil,” she said.
That doesn’t mean we should expect to see a flex-fuel Prius joining E85-capable versions of the Tundra and Sequoia in North American showrooms any time soon. “This project is part of the ‘right place, right vehicle’ worldwide approach in Toyota’s R&D,” said Vasquez-Wolkin, declining to comment on the prospect of offering a hybrid FFV outside Brazil. Still, it’s interesting to see Toyota working to further burnish the credentials of its green-car icon.