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Geneva show: Toyota Oz eyes Family-friendly Prius+

Family hybrid: Seven-seat Prius+ shown at Geneva, Toyota Australia seek to bring it here.

Toyota Australia bids for seven-seat Prius+, no Yaris hybrid for now

Toyota logo3 Mar 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

TOYOTA Australia is hot to trot for the new family-sized version of its expanding Prius range of hybrids, the seven-seat Prius+, which was unveiled at this week's Geneva motor show.

But the news is not so good for potential buyers of smaller Toyota hybrids, with petrol-electric versions of the Yaris light car and Corolla small car unlikely to arrive in Australia any time soon.

Toyota Australia national public relations manager Mike Breen confirmed that the Japanese-made Prius+ was on the wish-list for Australian launch, to join the original five-seat Prius.

“We are still negotiating with TMC (Toyota Motor Corporation) but it is still on the list of cars we would like to have,” he said.

The Prius+, which is closely related to the five-seat Prius V that was revealed at January’s Detroit motor show, uses the same Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain as the Prius, but with a larger, more spacious body and a lithium-ion battery pack in place of the nickel-metal hydride batteries in the Prius hatchback. The batteries fit snug under the second row of seats, which can also fold flat.

The seven-seater Prius+ would make a logical replacement for the Avensis people-mover that was discontinued in Australia last year, when it was last priced between $39,990 and $44,250. Even with a price premium over the Avensis, the Prius+ would still undercut the $52,490-plus Tarago.

8 center imageLeft: Toyota Yaris Hybrid. Bottom: Toyota EV prototype.

The Prius+ is due to be released in Europe in 2012 as one of four models in the new Prius family currently under development in Japan. The family also includes a smaller model, Prius C, to compete with the Honda CR-Z, and the Prius Plug-In Hybrid, which is being trialled in Australia ahead of a possible launch in 2012 or 2013.

However, Mr Breen said confirmation for Australia of the Plug-In Prius – using an expanded lithium-ion battery pack for greater electric-only range – would depend on the results of the trials that were scheduled to end next year.

Toyota seems to have no such doubts about the Prius+, whose primary target market is Europe, while the five-seat version, the Prius V, is aimed at North America.

Europe is also the sales focus of the Yaris HSD hybrid, which was launched this week at Geneva.

Powered by a scaled down version of the Prius powertrain, the Yaris HSD will be made only in left-hand drive form at Toyota's Valenciennes plant in northern France, ahead of its European release in the second half of 2012 – a fact that is likely to scuttle chances of an Australian launch due to shipping costs.

Mr Breen said that while Toyota Australian had not totally ruled it out, he estimated that its chances of making it Down Under were only about 25 per cent.

The new Yaris is set to be launched in its conventional petrol form in Australia in September, with stocks coming from Japan, where the hybrid version should also eventually be built. Powertain and transmission choices are expected to carry over from the current model.

The Corolla Hybrid – known in Europe as the Auris HSD – has been ruled out in the car's current generation for the same reasons: it is made only in Europe.

However, Mr Breen said Toyota Australia – which in July 2009 promised to launch at least eight new Toyota and Lexus models over the following four years starting with the then-new Prius - was still open to bringing in the petrol-electric version of Australia's top-selling small car to this country in next-generation guise.

While Lexus CT200h will later this month become the next hybrid model from Toyota in Australia, the sub-Yaris iQ sold in Japan and the UK is off the agenda in hybrid or conventional engine form, as the figures don't stack up for Australia where margins on such city cars are paper thin.

Toyota has publicly committed to producing a hybrid version of every model by 2020, and its Australian subsidiary’s problem might be solved when Toyota expands production of the hybrid Corolla and Yaris in Japan in the next few years.

Apart from the latest iteration of the rear-drive boxer-engined sports coupe jointly developed with Subaru, the FT-86 II, Toyota revealed another all-electric town car prototype at Geneva, based on the 3+1-seater iQ.

Designed to demonstrate there is life beyond hybrids, the EV prototype employs a lithium-ion battery pack and is claimed to offer a driving range of 105km on the Japanese C08 test cycle. Toyota says it will undergo testing in Europe this year, with a lease program potentially commencing in 2012.

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