Even the mighty Toyota Prius has fallen victim to economic chaos and plunging gas prices: Toyota said today it was postponing its plans to build the Prius at a new factory under construction in Blue Springs, near Tupelo, Mississippi—indefinitely.
Just a few months ago, the Prius was on a roll as gasoline prices topped $4 a gallon. As sales soared, Toyota switched the $1.3 billion Mississippi plant’s output to the iconic hybrid from its original product: Highlander sport-utility vehicles. Toyota even announced it would make the battery packs in the US at some point.
Now, reports Automotive News, the Toyota board has decided to halt the project due to a “steep decline” in US sales. The building is almost complete, but the company hadn’t yet begun to fill it with machine tools and manufacturing equipment.
US auto sales have plummeted roughly 30 percent against last year’s numbers, from an annual sales level of roughly 15 million to a mere two-thirds of that level in October and November 2008. And while the Detroit Three have seen sales fall further than their Asian counterparts, Toyota suffered a 32-percent loss in November. With gasoline back under $2 a gallon in many states, Prius sales have fallen further than that, almost 50 percent in November 2008 against the monthly level from a year ago.
The Blue Springs plant was to have manufactured the new, third-generation 2010 Prius that will be formally introduced at the Detroit Auto Show on January 12. The inspiration for the new Prius, Toyota’s Hybrid X concept car, was larger than the current compact-to-midsize model. Internet rumors indicate the 2010 Prius will not only be larger inside, but have a larger and more powerful engine—and significantly higher fuel economy than the current model’s 48 / 45 mpg on the EPA’s city / highway cycles.
There’s a silver lining to every dark cloud, though. The Mississippi plant will remain dedicated to building Priuses, whenever the project is finally restarted.