Toyota Prepares for Prius Gold Rush
In its first month of Japanese sales, customers ordered more than 100,000 of the new third-generation Toyota Prius. This number is 10 times the projected 10,000 unit-per-month sales target the carmaker had set earlier this year. In addition, there were 80,000 pre-orders placed before the car hit dealer showrooms on May 18. That brings the tally to 180,000 Priuses sold.
While the company ramps up Japanese production and projects a seven-month wait for new orders, it is now anticipating a similar reaction to the US release of the model and is searching for local capacity to fill anticipated orders.
The hybrid wars in Japan have intensified as the Toyota Prius and the new Honda Insight fight it out for the top spot. Prius won the top spot in May, but all hybrid sales in Japan surged over the last 30 days to levels not seen since prior to the onset of the global economic downturn. The Insight was the best-selling hybrid in Japan in April.
“Demand has shifted from Insight to Prius,” Yoshiaki Kawano, an analyst at auto consulting company CSM Worldwide in Tokyo, told Reuters News Service. “Tax incentives are definitely boosting purchases,” he added, referring to new government purchase breaks, like the waiving of sales tax, introduced to stimulate economic growth.
Customers ordering a Prius in Japan must wait close to seven months for delivery. In order to meet high demand, Toyota moved workers from various factory locations to its Tsutsumi, Aichi facility, which builds the Prius. Additionally, work shifts have implemented overtime in order to produce 50,000 Priuses a month.
Toyota currently does not make the Prius in the US, but that could change, according to Bloomberg News. The California NUMMI plant—a joint venture with GM—was mentioned as one possible location, since it makes the similar Corolla and will halt production of the Pontiac Vibe in August. Another possibility is an early start-up of the Tupelo, Miss., plant, which was originally supposed to produce Highlander SUVs, then switched to the Prius as the market shifted in 2008, then mothballed in December 2008 when the bottom fell out on the auto market. Officially, Toyota is still saying that the Tupelo plant will build the Prius “when demand and this economy turns around.”
The base price of the Toyota Prius was reduced by 12 percent before sales began, in order to compete with Honda’s less expensive Insight. The lower sticker helped Prius post high sales figures in the Japan. Whether the Prius will see a similar level of success in the US remains to be seen.