Updated: January 10, 2012 5:32 PM | By AFP

Toyota expands hybrid onslaught in US



Toyota expanded its hybrid vehicle onslaught at the Detroit auto show Tuesday, unveiling the smallest member of its Prius hybrid and a plug-in prototype for its mainstream Toyota brand.

The Prius c hatchback -- set to his showrooms in March -- will be the iconic brand's fourth model.

It will add "substantial incremental sales" by appealing to young buyers and people who had previously found hybrids to be out of reach thanks to a price tag under $19,000, said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

Toyota's NS4 plug-in hybrid sedan -- set to hit the market in 2015 -- will follow the upcoming launch of a plug-in Prius, which the Japanese automaker expects will sell 15,000 units in its first year, Lentz said.

Toyota has sold two million Prius vehicles in the 14 years since the hybrid's launch and dominates the US market, selling nearly half of all new hybrids despite a growing number of offerings from its competitors.

Yet gas-electric hybrids and other alternative powertrains like Nissan's all-electric Leaf and Honda's natural-gas powered Civic have yet to capture more than a tiny fraction of the market both in the United States and abroad.

"Our industry has spent decades and billions of dollars developing a wide range of advanced powertrain technologies," Lentz said.

"Fuel cells, EVs and plug-ins have been mandated, subsidized and promoted with conviction," he said.

"However the necessary first step is to get consumers to literally buy into the plan in sustainable volume."

While Toyota has high expectations for hybrids over the long-term, it's still "difficult to gauge" when they will grab more than a few points of market share, Lentz said.

Toyota expects US Prius sales to jump around 50 percent in 2012 to around 220,000 vehicles from around 140,000 in 2011, he said.

"Beyond that we'll have to see where acceptance is," he said.

© 2012 AFP

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