A paradigm shift whose time has come: The 2020 Corolla Altis HEV self-charging automobile

Teacher Bogie Teves test drives the 2020 Toyota Corolla Altis HEV (photo courtesy of Bogie’s Wonderland)

In our not so distant past, the free falling prices of gasoline and diesel products brought by nil demand worldwide would have encouraged motorists to travel more.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has constrained all kinds of travel, including land transport. The sudden drop in demand has also brought to fore just how significant the effects of fossil fueled vehicles are in the air quality of the world’s leading metropolitan cities which are now enjoying clear blue skies and fresh air after so long a time.

This brings us to the rising popularity of electric vehicles especially in urban areas. At zero emissions and negligible noise, they appear to be the personal vehicle of choice even in a post-COVID-19 word.

But the present profile of the power industry in the Philippines precludes the efficient and economical operation of all electrical vehicles (EVs). This doesn’t have so much to do with the EVs per se but rather with the “generation mix” of how electricity in the country is now produced.

When the full costs of a EVs operation in the Philippines are factored over its average economic life, it is still more expensive and inefficient compared the fossil-fueled internal combustion engines (ICE).

Moreover, in the Philippines where the provision of charging points is next to non-existent, Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) chose to instead begin with Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEV) in the transition from gasoline and diesel powered ICEs to full EVs

As Ritsmond A. Kalambacal, TMP Group Head for General Job Technical Training Group 1, CSO-Customer Service Training Dept., Marketing Division explained to us:

“Because of the generation mix and availability of electricity in Luzon (where the bulk of the Philippine market is), TMP believes HEVs are the electric vehicles that are most suited for the Philippines at this time,” he noted.

 “We are constantly working to dispel misconceptions most motorists have about HEV: one, it is complicated to drive, and that it can be switched to full gas or full EV manually.”

“However, the Corolla Altis HEV drives just like a conventional ICE powered vehicle and automatically charges the car’s batteries as needed. There’s no need to plug it in the grid to recharge it.”

“The Toyota Corolla Altis HEV is ready for today’s infrastructure and local power situation,” said Elvin G. Luciano, PR and Communications Section, Marketing Services Dept. “New owners will need almost zero learning curve since it’s no different from driving a conventional powered Altis.”

That’s exactly how auto journalist Jacob Oliva of autodea;l.com.ph relates it in his review after trying out the Corolla Altis Hybrid for a week.

“ I learned one thing: it’s no different from a vehicle with an internal combustion engine – except when you start the car up, which is as silent as a teenager escaping in the middle of the night.” 

Teacher Bogie Teves, who blogs at Bogie’s Wonderland and was lucky enough to test drive the 2020 Toyota Corolla Altis during the HEV Toyota Hybrid Electric Vehicle Campus Tour in Cagayan de Oro on February 21, remarked: “The car was very comfortable but what stands out the most is the super quiet engine.”

The 2020 Toyota Corolla Altis HEV looks and drives the same as the gasoline variant. (photo courtesy of Bogie’s Wonderland)

Previous Prius

In fact, the Prius, Toyota’s first HEV was already introduced in the Philippines as early as 2009 but never took off even when the more affordable Prius C was later offered as a more affordable option.

With taxes and other custom duties making them relatively expensive, Toyota loyalists opted for the more affordable gasoline powered models which in their minds returned more bang for the buck.

Not the least, there were fears the new technology  wasn’t mature enough to guarantee the affordable life cycle costs that had long been the most decisive factor in making previous and new Toyota owners opt for the brand.

However, topgear.com.ph‘s Drei Laurel  believes the 2020 Toyota Altis HEV’s P1,580,000  price point could be a “real game changer” relative to the Prius (P2,289,000) and Prius C (P1,907,000).  

Keeping it simple

To partly address these apprehensions and  simplify the workings of the Altis HEV, TMP distributed a pamphlet to students who attended its Feb. 21st  lecture at a local restaurant “HEV 101 Hybrid Electric Vehicle powered by Toyota.”

The material describes the HEV as “Combining one gasoline engine with two electric motors, the Toyota Hybrid Synergy Drive makes the vehicle powerful, fuel efficient and environment friendly.”

One System. Two Worlds.

“Enjoy the performance that you’re used to getting from a gasoline engine, while experiencing more kilometers per liter and generating less pollutants.”

Power and Performance. Fuel efficiency and lower emissions.

“One motor keeps your vehicle moving at low and moderate constant speeds, and charges the battery when you brake. Need to go faster? The other motor starts the gasoline engine to add power, and also fills up the battery. The engine turns off automatically when you come to a full stop.”

The 2020 Toyota Prius at Xavier University as part of TMP’s HEV Campus Tour last Feb. 21 (photo courtesy of Bogie’s Wonderland)

One gasoline engine. Two electric motors.

“The Hybrid Synergy Drive works automatically to make your driving efficient and great for your wallet and the environment. All these while still giving you the great performance you love!”

A simple illustration describes in a series of line drawings how the HEV “From a full stop or at a low or medium constant speed it uses one electric motor. Uses the gasoline engine and one motor when you need more power. Back to one motor when you need less power. And charges the battery when you brake.”

For the techies reading this, the Altis HEV is powered by a 1.8-liter four-cylinder DOHC gasoline engine and an electric motor that together churns out 121hp at 5,200rpm and 142Nm of torque at 3,600rpm.

First Dibs

The effort seems to have paid off. As topgear.com.ph’s  Drei Laurel reported, “TMP tells us that it managed to sell 30 units of the Toyota Corolla Altis in October 2019. That figure accounts for a little over 12% of total Corolla Altis Sales. In contrast, that’s already five times the number of Prius units sold in all of 2018.”

“At first glance, 12% doesn’t seem that impressive, but keep in mind that, at P1.58 million, the hybrid variant is by far the model’s most expensive option locally. The top-spec conventionally-powered Corolla Altis 1.6 V CVT, at P1.185 million, costs nearly P400,000 less. What’s more, TMP tells us it estimated the hybrid would only account for 7% of Corolla Altis monthly unit sales, so this is definitely a good start.” 

The Lowdown

Asked how much emissions are reduced in the HEV, Kalambacal replied: “Based on data from our regional office, the total emissions from our HEV is reduced by 34% per kilometer compared to a similar ICE powered vehicle.”

He also dispelled apprehensions about the provincial “casas” capability to service the  HEV, explaining how local service centers are ready to maintain the “new” tech cars, with their mechanics being trained at TMP.

Toyota also uses nickel-hydride batteries over the newer lithium ion batteries since the former are recyclable and have a mature technology compared to the latter.

“If a HEV is not used often, the battery deteriorates. However, if the car is used responsibly, its batteries will last the entire life of the vehicle without need of replacement,” Luciano stressed.

For Toyota hybrid vehicles beginning with model year 2020, the hybrid (HV) battery is covered for 5 years from original date of first use or 200,000 kms, whichever comes first. Coverage is subject to the terms and conditions of your New Vehicle Limited Warranty.

The 2020 Toyota Prius C on a test drive at Xavier University
(photo courtesy of Bogie’s Wonderland)

Mileage

Since I was unable to test drive the car itself due to other pressing concerns, I turned to existing reviews online to find out more about its mileage.

In an article posted last October, autoindustriya.com’s Vince Pornelos reported consuming only 3.28 liters on a trip from Manila to Tagaytay. 

In a later article, the same author reported the Altis HEV used only 0.622 of a liter on his 17.8 kilometer route from his home to the office in fairly heavy to moderate traffic at an average speed of 18 km/h.

“That’s not even two thirds of one liter because of a very high 28.5 kilometers per liter fuel economy figure with the A/C set for comfortable levels, yet still it only used up about 30 pesos worth of gasoline.” 

In his previously mentioned review, Oliva  reported 14.2 km/L. after an hour on northbound EDSA starting around 4PM, while a leisurely drive on a Sunday clocked in 26.2 km/L on an average speed of 60 km/h.

“The best fuel economy number I got with the Corolla Hybrid was 29.7 km/L – that’s after an hour on the highway with the cruise control set at 90 km/h.”

“Of note, these numbers are better than our initial Corolla Altis Hybrid fuel efficiency testing, which was done with five people on board.”

Put all these in the context of the current pandemic with gasoline prices in the Philippines with year-to-date adjustments as of March 31st dropping by P12.75 per liter for gasoline and P12.89 for diesel, and it’s looking more and more like the right time to jump aboard the Toyota Corolla Altis HEV bandwagon. 

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