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Toyota executives have been talking openly about broadening the Prius sedan into its own brand and an entire line of vehicles. Adding more models under the Prius brand is “something we have to look at,” Toyota spokesperson John Hanson said, though no firm plans have been announced.
Toyota recently announced a switch at its new plant in Tupelo, Miss. from producing Highlanders to making Priuses. With a flexible manufacturing system, the plant could potentially handle multiple models and reduce the high-cost of importing hybrid models from Japan. Hybrids currently account for about 10 percent of Toyota’s overall vehicle sales. All except the Camry hybrid are imported from Japan—and many of the Camry components are imported.
Later this year, General Motors is scheduled to release full hybrid versions of the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra trucks—which will boost the fuel economy of the V8 pickups into the low 20s. The Toyota A-BAT hybrid, with its smaller platform and hybrid system, could reach into the 30s—forcing pickup truck buyers to ask if they really need a full cargo bed after all. Or if higher gas prices call for a Prius-like pickup.