By Chang-Ran Kim, Asia autos correspondent
DETROIT Jan 12 Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) on
Monday unveiled its third-generation Prius hybrid, the world's
top-selling "green" car, targeting U.S. sales of 180,000 units
in the first 12 months and 400,000 globally in 2010.
Introducing the mid-sized sedan at the Detroit auto show,
Toyota said the new Prius achieved a combined city/highway
mileage of 50 miles per gallon, an improvement over the 46 mpg
for the current model and 41 mpg for the first version.
The car will hit showrooms in Japan and the United States
in late spring, followed by other markets around the world.
"We're very bullish about the new Prius," Bob Carter, group
vice president of Toyota Motor Sales, told Reuters in an
interview this week.
He said internal research showed that 93 percent of Prius
owners plan to stay with the Prius when they buy their next
car, making the model the industry leader in owner
Taking a major step towards its goal of selling 1 million
hybrid vehicles a year soon after 2010, Carter said Toyota
would sell the new Prius in 80 countries, nearly double the
number of markets where the current version is available.
Toyota has sold 1.7 million hybrid vehicles globally since
it blazed the trail with the first Prius in late 1997.
Honda Motor Co (7267.T), which introduced its first hybrid,
the Insight, two years behind Toyota, has sold just under
300,000 hybrids total.
MORE POWER, HIGH-TECH FEATURES
Toyota did not announce pricing on the 2010 model year
Prius, which it said was roomier, quieter and packed more
advanced features such as an optional moonroof with solar
panels, four driving modes, and a monitor-guided parking assist
system, among others.
The Prius will be driven by a more powerful 1.8-litre,
True to its name, the newest Prius, which means "to go
before" in Latin, holds 1,000 patents -- a jump from the
combined 670 filed for the first two generations, Carter said.
In the latest innovation, the car will be available with a
sliding glass moonroof packaged with solar panels that power a
ventilation system to circulate air in the car's interior. By
doing so, the system prevents the temperature inside the car on
a hot day when it is parked, reducing the use of
Still, fuel-efficient cars are facing headwinds after
gasoline prices fell by more than half their peak last July.
Worried about job security amid a faltering economy, many U.S.
consumers have also held off from purchasing any type of car in
Prius sales in the United States, its biggest market,
plunged 45 percent last month, bringing the model's total 2008
sales to fewer than 160,000 units, down 13 percent.
With its bottom line hit from plunging sales and a stronger
yen, Toyota has suspended work on its new plant in the state of
Mississippi which was slated to begin production of the Prius
beginning in late 2010. [ID:nN15325660]
But Toyota executives said they expected gasoline prices to
climb back up once the economy recovers, making the case for
hybrids and other fuel-sipping cars.
A day earlier, Toyota launched the HS250h, its luxury Lexus
brand's first dedicated hybrid car, due for sale this summer in
the United States. [ID:nN11295861]
"Our first full calendar year we'll (sell) about 30,000
units," Mark Templin, group vice president of the Lexus
division for North America, told Reuters on Monday.
"But I will tell you, our dealers really like the car and
they think it's going to be very successful. So they think
we're conservative, and I hope that's the case."
(Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim, editing by Peter Bohan)