NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) unveiled on Wednesday a new version of its plug-in hybrid Toyota Prius, almost a year after it halted production of the vehicle’s previous version.
The world’s largest automaker showcased the vehicle being renamed the Prius Prime at the New York International Auto Show. The Prius Prime, which goes on sale late this fall, will go 22 miles on battery power alone, twice as long as the previous version, the Japanese company said.
Toyota’s move comes as automakers face a challenge selling electric vehicles amid low gasoline prices, especially in the United States, where fuel taxes are much lower than much of the world.
The Prius Prime will have an estimated 120 miles or above per gallon equivalent, factoring in both the battery and gasoline powered engine, up 26 percent over the prior version because of greater battery capacity and improved hybrid system, Toyota said.
And the automaker said the new version will sport a “chiseled profile and edgy character lines” in a bid to shake up the brand’s image.
Toyota said the 22 miles all-electric range is enough to meet the daily commuter distance of over half of U.S. drivers, and drivers will be able to go up to 84 mph in electric mode.
That’s better than the maximum 19 miles all-electric range of the Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid and the 16 miles of the Audi A3 e-tron. But it is less than other plug-in hybrids, like General Motors Co’s (GM.N) Chevrolet Volt, which gets up to 53 miles of electric range, and 27 miles of electric range in the Hyundai Sonata plug-in hybrid.
Automakers face mandates from California and other states to build a growing number of electric vehicles and other zero emission vehicles.
In April 2015, Toyota said it was halting production of its plug-in for more than a year as it worked on a new version of the vehicle.
The company sold just 4,200 Prius plug-in vehicles in 2015 in the United States, down 68 percent over 2014, even after it cut the price of the vehicle by $2,000.
In total, Toyota sold 184,794 Prius hybrid cars in 2015 in the United States.
Last year, Honda Motor Co (7267.T) also said it was ending production of its Accord plug-in hybrid as it worked on a new electric vehicle.
Overall U.S. plug-in hybrid sales were down 15 percent last year.
Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman