Aqua vs Prius vs Fit vs Vezel, A Japanese Auction Hybrid vehicle buying guide
Why buy from Japanese Auctions?
More and more people import hybrids through Japanese Auctions. Because it is cheap. You can get a good vehicle. In addition, compared to other auctions the auction sheets are reliable (probably not in accident vehicles R - grade).
Hybrids are the wave of future. Many auto makers now offer hybrid vehicles. Most countries offer tax incentives to buy a hybrid vehicle. E.g Sri Lankan government offer tax incentive to hybrids therefore it is economically not viable to buy a good Non Hybrid in Sri Lanka.
So what hybrid to buy. We have several options and I am going to talk about reliability of hybrid vehicles available to Asian countries that import Japanese used vehicles.
Currently in Sri Lanka, Government has changed vehicle tax structure so there is no more tax benefits for hybrid vehicles.
- Review of Toyota Aqua (Prius C)
Toyota Aqua is a Hybrid vehicle which is developed for Japanese market. It is a mini hatchback vehicle with class leading fuel economy. It is re-branded as Prius C in western markets.
Hybrid vehicles commonly imported from Japanese Auctions
Problems of importing vehicles from Japanese Auctions
Most of the time imported hybrid vehicles do not have problems. They run just fine. But you should know some of the problem associated with auction imports.
You do not get a warranty when there is no genuine dealership. E.g. even though Toyota Lanka claims they are the “agents”, they will not help with Japanese warranty. They only give warranty to vehicles imported through them. This even applies to vehicle recalls due to wide spread manufacturing defects (E.g Prius Gen 3 Inverter malfunction). So even if you buy a vehicle with genuine manufacturing defect, then you will end up paying millions of rupees in repairs.
So why are people buying lot of hybrids from Japan. Are they all stupid???
Do not make any decisions now, Just read the rest of the article.
Problems of Hybrid cars?
Hybrid vehicles have complex and new technologies. So chance of having a manufacturing defect is higher than Non Hybrids (Practically it is rare but do occur). In addition, with regard to newer technologies such as Honda iDCD Hybrid (Vezel and Fit GP5) the chances of failure is higher.
Recent car recalls
- Toyota recalls 340,000 Prius hybrid cars for faulty brakes | Fox News
Toyota Motor Corp. is recalling 340,000 gas-electric hybrid Prius cars around the world 212,000 of them in Japan and 94,000 in North America, for a defect in their parking brakes.
- Green Car Congress: Honda recalls Fit Hybrids and Vezel Hybrids in Japan; 3rd recall due to problems
Online news, features and analysis
Old 2001 priuses are still running!!!
So why are we not seeing major problems in hybrid vehicles?
It is because most old hybrids are time tested. E.g Toyota Hybrid synergy drive (HSD) and Honda Integrated motor assist (IMA). Toyota Hybrid synergy drive (HSD) is developed in 1994 and first vehicle appeared in 1997. First export vehicle sold in 2001. After launch it had several recalls and manufacturing defects. Problems were corrected and warranty claims were paid because the countries originally used them had Genuine dealership. Toyota and Honda fixed initial problems in later generations and the reliability increased tremendously.
Now most agree that Honda Generation 2 insights and Generation 2 Priuses are very reliable. In fact, some of 2001 Priuses in US are running today without battery replacement and with original core parts!!
2004 Prius that has driven 360,000 Km
What about Hybrid batteries?
When hybrids enter into markets, people were pretty anxious to buy them because they felt that the batteries will not be reliable. Many myths were circulating in the internet that Hybrid batteries will fail within 5 years and they need to be replaced within first 100,000 kms. They are in fact most of the time Myths.
But there is a catch. The most reliable and time tested batteries were in fact NiMH batteries. They were the batteries that were incorporated into our yesteryear phones (Nokia 3310). The thing with NiMH batteries even in phones is they are very long lasting, if you maintain them properly.
However, from the experience of current Li Ion phone batteries is that they will be dead within four years how much you cared for them. But Li Ion batteries have large initial energy density and efficient charging compared to NiMH batteries. But I understand that vehicle batteries may be different but still they are not time tested. First mass produced Li Ion vehicles appeared in 2010.
Due to competition most vehicle manufactures now uses Li Ion batteries instead of NiMH batteries. They may have compromised the longevity to efficiency.
What are the vehicles that have Li Ion batteries?
Honda Fit GP5, Honda Vezel, and Prius Plugin has Li Ion batteries. In addition, Toyota Prius Alpha (Prius V in other countries) have Li Ion Batteries. Toyota Aqua, Toyota Prius and Honda Insight and Honda Fit GP1 has NiMH batteries.
What are the difference in fuel efficiency?
Fuel efficiency is determined by lot of factors. Most Toyota Hybrid synergy drive (HSD) vehicles are very fuel efficient. Honda IMA is not very fuel efficient. In fact they were called mild hybrids. However, Honda claims Gp5 and Vezel are best in their class (Newer hybrids iDCDi). However, only Toyota Hybrid synergy drive (HSD) is tested by independent agencies (US government and US Consumer reports).
New 4th generation Prius
Toyota has released its 4th generation Prius several months back. According to sources, Unlike previous generations, fourth generation prius was developed from ground up. It increases efficiency of power management inside various hybrid components, so it is around 10% more efficient than previous models. In addition, Toyota has changed its suspension and overall frame is more rigid.
Still Toyota is maintaining its NiMH batteries in regular 4th generation Prius. But they included Li Ion Battery in Prius ECO Model. It is more fuel efficient than regular model.
Since it is designed completely new it is safe to wait till the model matures. If you are in a hurry then better to buy it from Toyota Lanka. If problems crop up they will recall the vehicles and if you import it from japanese auctions then you will have to bear costly repairs.
So what are the best options?
If you look for reliability and peace of mind then go for tested hybrid technology (Toyota Hybrid synergy drive (HSD) and Honda Integrated motor assist). If you want to be more fashionable and have risk taking in your personality then newer hybrid technologies are for you.
Do not buy newest models (Not the vehicle) that came just from the design board. Allow at least one year for the model to mature. It is also risky to buy zero mileage hybrids. Because again manufacturing defects could crop up after some time. It is both safe and cheap to but at least a vehicle that is driven 5000km and more than 6 months old. Because if there is a manufacturing defect then it would have been sorted out in Japan.
It is also prudent to check for known vehicle recalls and note down model numbers before buying. E.g. Prius Gen 3 inverter malfunction which costs around Rs. 900,000 to replace.
Accident or R grade vehicles
Do not buy accident vehicles (R grade) from Japanese auction sites, especially Hybrids. Because the auction sheets of R grade vehicles are not very reliable and they do very slip shot job in repairing vehicles (Repairing is done by non-professionals). They just want to pass the vehicle through export certification.
If you happen to buy a vehicle from a local agent ask for Auction report and compare chasis no to no in the auction sheet. Also check letter R on the top right hand corner of the Auction sheet (It is in Japanese so you would understand a thing). If the R is there then it is an accident vehicle.
Japanese Auction sheet - Look for R in upper right hand corner
What is the best hybrid vehicle to Buy?
It is safer to buy hybrid vehicle that is time tested, accident free and that has a some mileage on it and a vehicle that is at least 6 months old(Not zero mileage).
I am a doctor by profession and this article is written with my personal experience and research I did before buying my Toyota Aqua. I am anyway not responsible for the decisions you take and this article is for information only.