Toyota expects its total 2015 hybrid sales to be around 400,000 units – fully half of which comprised of Prius variants – and the company said it is now preparing for North American Prius production possibly by that model year or sooner.
“We are targeting 2015. Around then we will probably introduce the next-generation Prius, so we are trying our hardest to realize local production of hybrid units then,” said Koei Saga, senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain R&D at Toyota.
In his interview with Automotive News at the Beijing auto show, Saga said Toyota is scouting out North American suppliers for batteries, inverters and electric motors, and has not decided on where in the States the new Prii should be built.
High Prius volume of 200,000 units is enough to justify the commitment, he said, and costs for U.S. production will be offset by present losses due to unfavorable exchange rates and costs associated with shipping from Japan.
But it may be a challenge to get all the components needed for its hybrid production from North American suppliers, Saga said.
He said most American hybrid carmakers import their drivetrain components from South Korea or Japan, and in the interim, Toyota may also have to import some parts from Japan as well.
Saga said Toyota will stick with nickel-metal hydride batteries for its base Prii, but the company will introduce lithium-ion batteries into its models as time goes on, such as is found already in the plug-in Prius.
He said li-ion appears to be here to stay for a while, and it’s in ways more cost effective, flexible for multiple applications, not to mention performance is superior with greater energy density.
In any event, a long hoped-for move to U.S. production is important news, but perhaps just as significant is Toyota’s prognosis for its hybrids sales, which could be seen as reflective on the U.S. hybrid market as a whole.
To put things in perspective, 400,000 expected Toyota hybrids by 2015 dwarfs the 268,807 total hybrids by all manufacturers sold in 2011 as listed by the HybridCars.com dashboard.
Last year, Toyota sold 136,463 Prius variants, so 200,000 projected for 2015 is also a sizable increase. Saga said the Camry Hybrid and others are expected to also sell in rapidly increasing numbers.
Presently, the Prius leads all hybrids for monthly sales by a large margin, and the Camry Hybrid follows in a distant second place.
If the rest of the hybrid vehicle market grows even close to proportionally – or new leaders rise in the ranks – we will see many more hybrids on American roads in only the next three years.
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