Toyota Chief Strongly Suggests Pending U.S. Prius Production

U.S. production of the Prius was expected for last year, it did not happen, but it could be soon say sources in Japan.

Yesterday, Shigeki Terashi, head of Toyota Motor North America Inc. came as close as possible to announcing that Toyota plans to produce the Prius in North America. He didn’t actually say it, and you needed to be Japanese to hear it.

After the Nikkei [sub] asked Terashi whether he would move Prius production to N.A., he answered that Toyota intends to “make cars where they are popular.” The Nikkei takes this to mean that the “comment suggests the firm is looking to gain a cost edge over rivals.”

The case for American Prius production has long been strong. Toyota sold 236,659 Prii among the various “family” members in the U.S. in 2012 alone, all of them imported from high-yen Japan. This is a major drag on the car’s profitability not to mention an environmental drag from the transport ships used to get them here.

Beyond this, long import routes are a hindrance, offshore production also tends to impact the granularity of options and trims.

Terashi’s statement however leaves room for speculation until a clear word is given. His veiled comment could suggest only U.S. assembly of Prii, with the powertrain coming from Japan, however, “the North American unit will also consider locally manufacturing key components for hybrids, such as batteries and motors,” Terashi told The Nikkei.

Some have taken this as an all but an unequivocal yet unofficial confirmation of domestic Prius production, so we shall see.