Toyota announced it has delayed the launch of the Prius plug-in hybrid for the Japan market.
Previously, the automaker had said that it would begin sales of the plug-in model in Japan in the fall and that the car would become available in North America and Europe in late fall.
No specific reasons for the delay were stated, but spokesperson Kayo Doi told reporters in Japan generally that the company is being careful.
“We decided we want to take our time and more care before starting mass manufacturing,” said Doi.
A spokesman told Automotive News that the company will reduce initial production, but that output at its Japanese production facility will ramp up as demand increases.
As for other markets, U.S. and European dealers won’t get the plug-in until “winter,” a Detroit-based Toyota spokesperson told The Detroit Bureau, or presumably without delay for these markets.
In June Koji Toyoshima, the Prius’s chief engineer, told Automotive News that Toyota is targeting 60,000 sales a year for the Prius plug-in, with about half of the sales in North America, the other half in Japan.
Those are ambitious numbers; the original plug-in version was little more than a footnote on the sales charts.
Known as the Prius Prime in the U.S., the plug-in version of the standard Prius made its global introduction at the New York International Auto Show in March.
While the conventional model can run on battery power for only short distances at low speeds, the Prius Prime makes use of a larger, 8.8 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack that gives a pure electric driving range of 22 miles at regular speeds.
Sales of the revised fourth-genertion standard Prius have been sluggish since it went on sale in February, partly because low gasoline prices have ramped up demand for SUVs and pickup trucks.
Prius sales in July were up, but are down by nearly 11 percent compared to this time last year.
Toyota has not released U.S. or Japan prices for the Prius Prime, but Toyota Netherlands just published a retail price of $38,500 U.S. — only 15 percent more than the standard Prius.
If Toyota’s U.S. arm follows that pricing strategy, it could go a long way in meeting the 30,000 yearly sales projections.