High demand in Japan imperils U.S. Prius

Automotive News reports on Toyota's Prius supply issues.

Automotive News

TOKYO -- Booming Japanese demand for the new-generation Prius could mean fewer U.S. deliveries of the popular hybrid vehicle when it goes on sale next month.

Toyota Motor Corp. booked 80,000 advance orders for the car in Japan before its Monday, May 18, sales debut. That nearly meets the local sales goal of 100,000 units for the year.

Incoming President Akio Toyoda said he wants to sell between 300,000 and 400,000 units worldwide by Jan. 1, about half to North America and roughly 17 percent to Europe.

But Yoshimasa Ishii, managing officer in charge of overseas marketing, said Toyota may have to reconsider planned shipments to North America so it can meet demand at home. Japanese customers placing an order today have to wait about four months for delivery.

"We have an initial allocation for the United States, according to the original annual plan. But because of the very strong demand from Japan, we may need to review this sales plan and reallocate the production plan," Ishii told Automotive News on the sidelines of the Prius launch here.

The key will be how fast Toyota can boost output at the two Japanese plants making the car.

Prius chief engineer Akihiko Otsuka said current capacity stands at more than 40,000 units a month. Toyota aims to lift output higher through overtime shifts, he said.

Toyota's companywide capacity for all hybrid vehicles is limited by battery availability to around 500,000 vehicles. But that will expand to 800,000 by year end, Otsuka said.

Toyota wants to sell between 500,000 and 600,000 Priuses globally in the car's first full 12 months on the market, he said. "We have to think about the appropriate ratio of allocating those vehicles," Otsuka said.

The first Prius shipment left for the United States in late April. They will go on sale as soon as they arrive at dealerships in late May or early June.

Further eating into Toyota's hybrid production capacity are plans to keep making the current-generation Prius as a fleet vehicle for sale only in Japan. That model will be rechristened the Prius EX and will have a monthly sales target of 2,000.

(Source: Automotive News)

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