For years, Ford has championed its "world's-first" hybrid SUV, the Escape; GM eagerly exposed its joint effort with DaimlerChrysler to create an advanced hybrid system; and Honda quietly, yet conspicuously, revealed the Accord Hybrid, an automobile for those consumers who want to let others know they're not making a statement. Or something like that.
To Toyota, however, this is an old game. The widely-popular - and widely-practical - Prius has been around since the 2000 model year, and is already in its second skin. Sure, Honda has offered the Insight hybrid for just as long, but its two-seat configuration, flat rear deck with no enclosure for luggage, and odd-ball styling have stifled sales. And, the Honda Civic Hybrid, first delivered to U.S. customers in 2003, has neither made the type of impact, nor commanded the respect that the Prius enjoys.
Toyota planned it perfectly. When the hybrid craze truly exploded a year or two ago, this Japanese automaker already had a production vehicle in U.S. showrooms. Better yet, all Prius models were developed with the gas/electric powertrain, so the consumer experiences instant recognition, plus a measure of status, for piloting one. By comparison, cross paths with a Civic Hybrid on a two-lane road and you'd likely never suspect its energy-efficient surname.
But as the technology improves, customers are now expecting electric supplementation across the manufacturers' lineups. That is, increasing numbers of mainstream vehicles will propel themselves via both combustion and electrons. Undoubtedly, the result should be positive, as hybrid vehicles will likely lose the status-fulfillment feature and, instead, just require less fueling.
Welcome to the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Toyota points out that with this vehicle's introduction; it is the first automaker to sell a 7-passenger hybrid SUV. (Ford's Escape Hybrid ferries five.) This makes Toyota unique in offering both a mid-sized passenger car and a mid-sized SUV that utilize dual power sources.