(Adds background, sales targets for U.S. and Europe)
TOKYO, May 13 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp said it had received 25,000 orders for the Prius Alpha hybrid wagon and minivan models in Japan before sales start on Friday, underscoring strong demand for fuel-sipping vehicles as gasoline prices rise.
That is equivalent to more than eight times its monthly sales target of 3,000 units.
The Prius Alpha is the first of an extended family of Prius models planned by the world’s biggest automaker, and a sales start had been delayed from April due to production disruptions after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake on March 11. Toyota said customers will have to wait longer than usual for delivery due to the ongoing disruption to production.
Rival Honda Motor Co has also postponed sales of its Fit Shuttle station wagon, which will be available in both gasoline and gasoline-electric versions, from the initial plan of March 18.
A Honda spokesman said production of the Fit Shuttle had started in small lots this week, but that no sales date had been fixed. Honda stopped taking pre-sale orders for the car after the quake, he said.
Toyota’s Prius Alpha comes in a two-row, five-seater version and a three-row, seven-seater version. Both get 31.0 km to a litre of gasoline, about twice the mileage of similarly sized conventional models, chief engineer Hiroshi Kayukawa told a news conference.
The seven-seater model is Toyota’s first mass-produced car to use a lithium-ion battery. But procuring enough of the next-generation battery was difficult during the current supply chain crisis and customers with orders for the model may not be able to purchase one until next April, when tax incentives for hybrids are set to expire, Toyota said.
The five-seater version starts at 2.35 million yen ($29,000), while the seven-seater starts at 3 million yen.
Toyota first unveiled the extended Prius family at the Detroit auto show in January, announcing plans to begin selling the five-seater version, to be called the Prius v in North America, this summer. The three-row model will go on sale in Europe in mid-2012, under the name Prius+. [ID:nN10285824]
Kayukawa said Toyota would initially target monthly sales of 2,000 Prius v’s in the United States and 2,000 Prius+’s in Europe.
Toyota, the pioneer in hybrid technology, has a goal of selling at least 1 million hybrid vehicles globally a year by mid-decade. It plans to offer the hybrid option across its entire line-up by 2020. ($1 = 80.945 Japanese Yen) (Reporting by Chang-Ran Kim; Editing by Chris Gallagher)