Automakers appear to be taking two basic approaches to designing the current crop of hybrids. One is to optimize the design of the vehicle for fuel economy, using the additional power from the electric motor to support the graceful downsizing of the combustion engine (e.g., Prius, Insight).
The other is to couple the same size engine used in a comparable conventional model with the electric motor. The result in this case is a vehicle that performs better than the conventional version, while offering a less significant improvement in fuel economy (e.g., Accord, Rx400h). Increasingly, the industry trend seems to be headed down this path.
Toyota has yet to announce the specifications for the upcoming Camry hybrid (earlier post), but rumors are suggesting that the powertrain will be the same as that of the new Highlander hybrid (earlier post). (The conventional Highlander is based on the Camry platform, so there is logic to this.)
The conventional Camry offers a choice of three engines: a 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder; a 3.0-liter, 6-cylinder; and the top-end 3.3-liter, 6-cylinder engine used in the Highlander hybrid. As an aside, the conventional Highlander also offers the 2.4-liter, 4-cylinder engine as an option.
The Highlander hybrid powertrain uses a new version of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain specifically developed, according to Toyota, for the mid-size SUV class. An all-new high-speed electric motor operates at twice the speed (up to 12,500 RPM) and delivers more than twice the power (123 kW) as the motor used in the Prius, producing 268 peak combined horsepower with a standard towing capacity of 3,500 pounds.
Toyota modified the high-end 3.3-liter V6 engine in the conventional Highlander to integrate more smoothly with the new hybrid system. Revisions include changes to calibrations of the Variable Valve Timing with intelligence (VVT-i) and Electronic Throttle Control (ETC) systems.
If Toyota does use exactly the same powertrain in the Camry, clearly they will have opted for performance rather than maximizing fuel economy. With a combined 268 hp from the hybrid powertrain, such a Camry hybrid would be a screamer.
A Camry hybrid based on the 4-cylinder engine would be more interesting from the point of view of minimizing fuel consumption.
The direction Toyota takes with the Camry hybrid will be important—the car is the top-selling model in the US, racking up 426,990 units in 2004, and 259,611 units through the end of July this year (some 2% above the 2004 figures for the same period).
We’ll just have to wait and see.