Originally introduced by Toyota in Japan in 1997, the Prius quickly became the world's best-selling gas-electric hybrid vehicle. Driven by the market's hunger for more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly alternatives to gas-guzzling SUVs, the Prius seemed to be most popular solution, despite the performance superiority of competing hybrids such as the Honda Insight. Over the years, the Prius has undergone several revisions that have increased its performance and fuel efficiency.
The first generation Prius was marketed solely in Japan, beginning in 1997. This initial version of the car featured a 58-horsepower gasoline engine and a 40-horsepower electric motor. It was a five-seat sedan with conventional styling quite unlike future generations of the car. Although presented as a fuel-efficient alternative to gasoline-powered cars, the Prius achieved less than spectacular mileage numbers, and Toyota would significantly redesign the car before releasing it on the global market.
In 2001, the second generation Prius was sold in international markets, including the United States. The body was redesigned into a five-passenger hatchback sedan, with more stylish lines than the original car. More importantly, the car's performance was improved by increasing the power of its gasoline engine to 70 horsepower and the output of its electric motor to 44 horsepower. A new modular battery pack was lighter and produced more power, and the car's mileage estimates increased to 52 mpg in the city and 45 mpg on the highway.
In the 2004 model year, Toyota introduced the Generation III Prius (often confusingly referred to as the second-generation Prius) to the U.S. market. Power output continued to increase with this generation; the car's gasoline engine produced 76 horsepower, and the output of its electric motor increased dramatically to 67 horsepower. Mileage estimates for the Generation III Prius were more impressive, as well, increasing to 60 mpg in the city and 50 mpg on the highway.
The Prius was redesigned again in 2010, but the heart of its drivetrain and its configuration as a five-passenger sedan remained the same. The gasoline engine in the 2010 Prius produced 98 horsepower, and total system output was 134 horsepower. As of 2011, Toyota had plans to introduce a more fuel-efficient version of the Prius, dubbed the Prius C, and a bigger wagon version of the car, called the Prius V.
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