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Toyota to Unveil “Baby Prius” Concept This Month

Bill DiBenedetto | Tuesday January 5th, 2010 | 1 Comment


There’s a big reason that Toyota Motor Company is the world’s largest carmaker: It responds nimbly to the demands of the marketplace.

The latest evidence of this is the company’s plan to launch a subcompact version of its hugely popular hybrid auto, the Prius.

A Detroit News report this month revealed that TMC is developing an all-new gas-electric car that will be smaller and more affordable than the Prius. It will also surpass the Prius’ 50 MPG average. The plan is to unveil a concept version of the new car at the Detroit auto show, which starts next week.

The name is apparently still a secret at this point but the concept debut will provide more details about its looks and probably its name. It is reported that the car could cost about $3,000 less than the Prius while offering higher mileage than any other hybrid currently on the market.

Toyota’s plan for a subcompact hybrid first surfaced last March. At that time, Akihiko Otsuka, chief engineer of the third-generation Prius was quoted as saying, “We are going to compete by expanding our hybrid-vehicle lineup to smaller hybrids, in the class of the Vitz [which is sold in Japan] and Yaris.”

Although not yet confirmed by Toyota, the concept could go into production in late 2011 and arrive in U.S. showrooms in early 2012. News reports say annual production could reach about 150,000 units.

Toyota has expanded its US gas-electric lineup to seven in recent years – three Toyota vehicles and four with the Lexus nameplate. But none have come close to the Toyota Prius in popularity, according to a report in hybridCARS. “Many observers believe that the price of hybrids must come down before reaching mainstream buyers,” that report says. Earlier this year, Honda introduced the 2010 Honda Insight in an effort to make hybrids affordable. But the Insight’s combination of a $20,000 price tag and average city/highway mileage of 41 mpg did not win hybrid shoppers away from the 50-mpg Prius, which commonly sells in the mid-$20,000 range.

Toyota is the leading producer of hybrids and the Prius accounts for more than 75 percent of the company’s hybrid sales, which totaled 417,000 through October.

The company says it plans eventually to offer a hybrid version for every model in its lineup.

A baby Prius would solidify Toyota’s leading position in the hybrid market, probably for many years. But hybrids are still considered a transitional phase – because of their small gas engines – until the coming of zero-emission all-electric or fuel cell cars on a large, affordable scale.

Is Toyota too single-minded about hybrids, or does it have an EV up its sleeve?

Never bet against a market leader: Just this month Toyota introduced the “Prius Plug-in Hybrid,” a plug-in version of the gas-electric car into some key markets.


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