TOKYO--Toyota has delayed plans to build the Prius in the United States, according to a source close to the decision-making.
The economic downturn and the recall crisis have forced Toyota to reconsider its plans, the person said.
"We have no concrete plans to build the Prius in America right now," the source said. "There are still component sourcing and production engineering issues to work out." He noted that several key components for the electric-gasoline hybrid, including the battery, inverter and motor, are sourced from Japan.
The Prius has long been billed as the product to be manufactured at the Toyota plant in Blue Springs, Miss., which is unfinished.
A Japanese newspaper reported this month that Toyota could crank up the plant as early as June 2011. But the Prius isn't expected to be among the first models under such a scenario, the source said.
Last month, Toyota recalled nearly 437,000 units of the third-generation Prius worldwide to fix a glitch with the antilock brakes.
Toyota spokeswoman Mieko Iwasaki said there has been no decision on when the plant will open or what will be built there.
Toyota launched the project in 2006, aiming to build Highlander crossovers. But in 2008, as fuel prices surged, Toyota said the plant would build the Prius instead. By December of that year, with the economy imploding, construction was suspended indefinitely.
Insiders suggest that an announcement on the future of the plant won't be made until after Toyota has finished shutting down the New United Motor Manufacturing plant, the Fremont, Calif., joint venture it operated with General Motors since 1984. That plant is scheduled to close on March 31.
If the Mississippi plant ramps up without the Prius, it is unclear what vehicle might be made there instead. The source did not say what alternatives Toyota is weighing.
But the Toyota Corolla compact is one possibility. The NUMMI closure lops off about 400,000 units of capacity from Toyota's global total of 10 million vehicles. And its output of Corollas is currently being replaced by production in Japan and Cambridge, Ontario.
(Source: Automotive News)