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AIMS: Toyota confirms city Prius

Slinky: The five-door Prius C concept will be on display at this year's AIMS.

Thrifty Toyota Prius C to set new hybrid benchmark when it arrives in 2012

Toyota logo27 Jun 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

TOYOTA will launch its most affordable and most efficient hybrid car to date in Australia next year when the production version of the Prius C light hatchback becomes one of two new hybrids for local debut in 2012.

The five-door Prius C, which will be shown in concept form at the 2011 Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne starting Friday, today was confirmed for the local market, where it will sit below the current third-generation five-door Prius in a growing family of petrol-electric Toyota cars.

It is likely to be joined here in 2012 by a new mid-sized Prius family wagon, the five-seat Prius V or its seven-seat version, the Prius+, which also will be shown in Prius V concept form at the Melbourne extravaganza.

Another unnamed hybrid – most likely the Prius Plug-in Hybrid – will follow in 2013, delivering on Toyota Australia’s promise in 2009 to launch eight new hybrid passenger cars in its Toyota and Lexus ranges within four years.

Toyota Australia has elected to take the Japanese-made Prius C – “C for city” – over the Yaris hybrid that was unveiled in March at the Geneva motor show ahead of its launch in Europe.

8 center imageFrom top: Toyota Prius C interior, Toyota Prius V, Toyota Prius +, Toyota Prius 7-seat interior.

Unveiling the five Toyota debutantes for the Melbourne motor show, Toyota Australia executive director sales and marketing David Buttner said the Prius C was a city-friendly car aimed at young singles and couples wanting a fuel-efficient car that was both fun to drive and spacious.

“It will be Toyota’s most affordable hybrid and we expect it to offer even better fuel economy and lower emissions than our flagship Prius,” he said.

Mr Buttner stopped short of predicting a price for the Prius C, saying only that it would be priced under the current Prius small hatchback that now starts at $34,990 after the entry price was slashed by $5000 in April.

But Toyota insiders suggest the Prius C might undercut the current cheapest hybrid car on the market, the $29,990 Honda Insight ‘mild hybrid’ five-door hatchback, to reclaim price leadership for Australia’s biggest car company.

Fuel economy figures have yet to be disclosed, but it is said to eclipse the 3.9 litres per 100km performance of the standard Prius, while also bettering the Prius’s carbon-dioxide emissions rating of 89 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

Toyota claims this would make it the greenest car this side of plug-in vehicles.

Although Toyota is set to show the bigger Prius V wagon at the motor show, Mr Buttner said it was not yet locked in for the Australian market.

He said Toyota would seek feedback from local show-goers on the potential for the family-sized Prius, and, if it was warmly received, it would be locked in for 2012 launch.

However, Toyota Australia has not ruled out the seven-seat version that will be sold in both Japan and Europe, if customers can convince Toyota they will pay the premium for the Prius+.

The Prius+ costs extra because it not only adds the extra row of seats but a more expensive and more compact lithium-ion battery pack over the Prius V’s nickel-metal hydride battery.

The Prius V has the same Hybrid Synergy Drive petrol-electric powertrain as the current Prius – with its 73kW 1.8-litre petrol engine and 60kW electric motor – although its extra bulk is said to result in slightly worse fuel economy.

Although it seats the same number of people as the standard Prius (five), the key to the Prius V is its roominess and versatility, with a sliding second row of seats and a cargo area that is said to rival some SUVs.

Mr Buttner told GoAuto that Toyota Australia might consider launching both the Prius V and Prius+, although another Toyota executive said it would be one or the other at launch next year.

“Currently we are looking definitively at the five-seater, but we seriously want to gauge the reaction at the motor show,” Mr Buttner said.

“We have a lot of conversations on the stand where we get a lot of take-out interviews done and, honestly, if there is genuine interest and if we thought that there is a market for the seven-seater, then we are not opposed to launching the product in the marketplace.” Mr Buttner conceded that the seven-seat Prius+ used more expensive lithium-ion batteries, which are moved from the back of the vehicle and into the centre console to free up room for the third row of seats.

But he said pricing had not yet been considered for either vehicle.

“We haven’t discussed pricing at this juncture,” he said. “Let’s see what happens at the motor show – judge consumers’ interest, then let’s look at what we have to offer on the pricing.

“On the current generation Prius, we have just gone through a major repositioning which gives us a launchpad to look at the other models in the marketplace. We do have a strategy there.”

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