(Updates with future hybrid plan in seventh paragraph. For coverage of the Detroit auto show, see SHOW <GO>.)
Jan. 11 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp., the biggest seller of gasoline-electric cars, said U.S. Prius sales will climb more than 60 percent to a record this year, helped by the introduction of a smaller version of the hybrid hatchback.
Deliveries of cars bearing the Prius name should exceed 220,000, Jim Lentz, president of the U.S. sales unit, said yesterday. He spoke at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, where Toyota showed the subcompact five-door Prius c that goes on sale early this year, priced below $19,000 and offering 53 miles (84.8 kilometers) per gallon in city driving.
“If you look at the investment we’ve made in Prius in the U.S., the million-plus sales we’ve had and the fact that these are very loyal hybrid buyers, now we will be rotating and bringing those buyers back through to buy more Priuses,” Lentz said in an interview yesterday. “This time they have much more choice.”
The Prius c targets entry-level buyers and joins the standard midsize Prius, Prius v wagon added late last year and Prius plug-in that also goes on sale this year. Toyota’s targets last year were derailed after Japan’s record earthquake in March and the floods in Thailand disrupted production.
Toyota fell 6 yen, or 0.2 percent, to 2,620 yen as of 9:43 a.m. in Tokyo.
Along with a revamped Camry, the Prius family of vehicles will be the biggest drivers of U.S. sales for Toyota this year, according to Lentz, who had previously said that Prius sales in the U.S. would exceed 200,000 in 2012. The company plans to increase overall deliveries in the market by 15 percent from 2011, he said.
Along with the expanded Prius line, the company will add another new hybrid car this year, Bob Carter, group vice president of U.S. Toyota brand sales, said late yesterday.
“We’ll introduce a hybrid that has more room than a BMW X5, is faster than a VW TDi and has higher MPG than a Fiat 500,” Carter said in a speech at the Automotive News World Congress in Detroit. While the car will have “near-luxury” auto features, it will come “with the price and value of a Toyota,” he said, without elaborating.
Carter declined to say whether the model would be a hybrid version of Toyota’s Avalon large sedan.
U.S. Prius sales peaked at 181,221 in 2007. Then a global recession resulted in a collapse in demand and deliveries reached only 136,463 last year.
Hybrid sales slowed last year to 2.2 percent of U.S. auto sales, from 2.4 percent in 2010, according to researcher LMC Automotive. That was mainly because of a plunge in Prius inventory after natural disasters in Japan slowed production, Lentz said.
While other automakers haven’t had as much success as Toyota in selling hybrids, the Japanese carmaker remains upbeat about the outlook, Lentz said.
Prius is “by far the best execution of hybrid in the marketplace,” he said. “It’s a core strategy we’re sticking by.”
Along with the Prius c, sold in Japan as the Aqua, Toyota also showed a concept version of a plug-in hybrid sedan, the NS4, which may go on sale in 2015.
The closest competitor for the Prius c, Honda Motor Co.’s compact Insight hybrid, has a starting price of $18,350 and gets 41 miles per gallon, according to Honda.
--With assistance from Matthew Miller in New York. Editors: Young-Sam Cho, Bill Koenig
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