Toyota May Expand Prius Hybrid Line

By dancurranjr On October 13th, 2008

Toyota Motor may create a separate brand for its Prius hybrid car and could add both larger and smaller Prius models to the lineup, the head of Toyota’s American sales division said Thursday.

James E. Lentz III, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said he had proposed the idea to senior company executives in Japan. Lentz said he did not know when they might approve the project, but said he would meet with executives in Japan next month to discuss future models.

Toyota officials first discussed the concept of a separate Prius brand at the Detroit auto show in January.

Lentz, who spoke after the dedication of Toyota’s new safety and engineering center in Ann Arbor, said the Prius brand would be similar to Scion, Toyota’s brand of lower-priced cars aimed at younger buyers.

The brand would include the original Prius as well as new models bearing a Prius nameplate that Toyota is said to be developing.

The separate Prius brand would be sold only in the United States, Lentz said, and is not under consideration for other parts of the world. One future version could be smaller than the original Prius. In addition, “there could be one on steroids,” meaning a bigger version of Prius, Lentz said.

Toyota plans to introduce the next-generation version of Prius in January at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show, where it also will unveil a new hybrid car for its Lexus luxury brand.

The next-generation Prius will be bigger than the current car and initially will be built in Japan, Lentz said. Toyota plans to start building the Prius at a new plant in Blue Springs, Miss., in 2010. Lentz said the plant would be started regardless of whether the company decided to introduce the separate brand.

Toyota has not provided many details on a “Prius on steroids” model. The company is also said to be working on a crossover version of the Prius, although Lentz declined comment.

He asserted that Toyota was not planning to sell Prius vehicles in separate dealerships, like its Lexus models. Instead, a broader Prius lineup will be sold alongside Toyota and Scion cars in Toyota dealerships, he said.

Toyota has said it plans to make a hybrid-electric system available on every vehicle it sells worldwide sometime in the next decade. The models intended for Prius would be designed specifically as hybrids, however.

In a sense, Lentz said, consumers have already created the Prius brand, and the company is just catching up to the marketplace. The Prius accounts for 75 percent of the hybrid-electric cars sold in the United States, he said. Americans buy 65 to 70 percent of all Toyota hybrids sold worldwide.

“We’re catching the wind with this,” he said.

Source: Rutland Herald

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