Toyota Aims For North American Prius Production by 2015
by: Zack McDonald – HybridCars.com
Toyota says it has plans to begin manufacturing the Prius in the United States for the first time. Last year, the carmaker recorded its 1 millionth Prius sale in the U.S., and despite supply shortfalls in the aftermath of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, sold more than 136,000 Prii here for the full year. By 2015, the company expects annual North American Prius sales to reach 200,000 units, with total North American hybrid sales projected to hit 400,000 vehicles by that time.
Toyota executive, Koei Saga, told Auto News this week that the carmaker is currently scouting potential North American suppliers. “We are targeting 2015,” said Saga. “Around then we will probably introduce the next-generation Prius, so we are trying our hardest to realize local production of hybrid units then.”
The shift will hopefully spell the end of the dreaded Prius waiting list for American customers, a phenomenon that has been present during all the more major recent oil spikes in the U.S. Being able to meet demand when it is at its highest is one of the main reasons that Toyota started talking about adding production flexibility to the Prius line last year. Another reason is an overall desire on the part of the company to avoid the major losses suffered across the Japanese auto industry as a result of last year’s earthquake, which caused the carmaker to report its first quarterly loss in more than two years, and sent executives searching for ways to diversify their supply chains.
It’s been a long time since the Prius was a niche vehicle spotted mainly in California’s more liberal enclaves, and Toyota can no longer afford to lose potential sales to competing hybrids during production shortfalls. With the expansion of the platform to include not only the standard Prius but also the larger Prius v, the compact Prius c, and the Prius Plug-in, Toyota plans to make the Prius the best-selling vehicle platform in the world in the coming years.
Saga also told Auto News that Toyota plans to stick with nickel metal hydride batteries for the next generation Prius, despite moves by competitors to switch their hybrids to lithium ion. Still, the company says it could begin lithium ion battery production here in the United States to supply the Prius Plug-in and eventually other plug-in vehicle offerings.