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Quake rocks Toyota’s Prius+ plans

Waiting: Toyota's Prius+ - known in Japan as the Prius Alpha - is taking the long route to Australia because of production delays.

Prius+ people-mover arrival in Oz blows out as Toyota struggles to cope with demand

Toyota logo16 May 2011

By RON HAMMERTON

PRODUCTION dislocation due to the Japanese earthquake in March is messing with plans by Toyota Australia to lock in its first family-friendly hybrid vehicle, the Prius+ people-mover.

The seven-seat Prius has just been formally launched alongside its five-seat twin, the Prius V, under a new sub-brand – Prius Alpha – in Japan, where Toyota dealers are holding 25,000 pre-sale orders.

But, in the same breath, Toyota Motor Corporation has warned Japanese customers they might have to cool their heels a little longer for the two vehicles while its factories play catch-up from the March earthquake.

The same production dislocation is also hampering Toyota Australia’s efforts to firm up plans for the Prius+, which it wants to sell alongside the standard five-seat Prius in this market.

Toyota Australia spokesman Chris Parker told GoAuto: “Because of the Japanese quake, production hasn’t been confirmed, so everything is still under investigation at the moment.”

Overseas reports suggest the combination of battery pack shortages caused by the earthquake and strong initial demand in the Japanese domestic market is expected to delay exports.

8 center imageLeft: Toyota Prius Alpha. Below: Toyota Prius C and Prius+ concepts.

The Detroit News said customers might have to wait up to a year for delivery, as Toyota can build only 3000 units a month.

The Prius+, which was revealed at the Geneva motor show in March, is still a chance for the Australian International Motor Show in Melbourne in July, if TMC gives the car the thumbs-up for Australia.

So far, Toyota Australia has confirmed that it will display yet another hybrid, the Prius C Concept compact hatchback, at the show, along with its new rear-drive, boxer-engined sports coupe, the FT-86.

“For the Melbourne motor show, we have definitely confirmed Prius C, but we have asked for a range of cars,” Mr Parker said.

“With regard for Prius V or Prius+, neither of those cars have been confirmed. As soon as TMC confirms it with us, we will let you know.”

So far, Japan appears to be the only market to take both the Prius V and Prius+, with North America opting for the five-seat wagon – which is scheduled for launch in that market in the middle of this year – and Europe the seven-seat people-mover, from mid-2012.

The major difference between the two vehicles is the adoption of a compact lithium-ion battery pack that frees up room for a third row of seats in the Prius+.

The Prius V uses bulkier but cheaper nickel-metal hydride batteries under the rear cargo floor, precluding the extra seats.

The Prius+ is the first mass-produced Toyota to use lithium-ion technology, which will also go into the Plug-in Prius once it reaches general delivery.

Toyota Australia is leaning to the seven-seat Prius+, which would make a logical replacement for the Avensis that was discontinued in Australia last year.

In Japan, both models will come under the Prius Alpha umbrella – or Prius  – which Toyota says “hints at the provisions of greater value”.

Powered by Toyota’s second-generation Hybrid Synergy Drive, the Alpha models combine a 73kW/142Nm 1.8-litre Atkinson-cycle petrol engine with a 60kW/207Nm electric motor for a peak power of 100kW – the same as the current third-generation Prius hatchback.

At 4615mm, the Alpha models are 155mm longer than the current Prius, and wider by 30 (1775mm).

And, although the Prius Alpha’s aerodynamic drag – rated at 0.29Cd – is inferior to the Prius hatch’s 0.25Cd, both Alpha models are said to achieve fuel consumption of 3.8 litres per 100km – superior to the standard Prius’s 3.9L/100km.

Carbon dioxide emissions are said to be 89 grams per kilometre – again the same as the Prius hatch.

Like the standard Prius, the Prius Alpha can be driven for short distances in electric mode before the petrol engine kicks in.

To save weight, Toyota has employed resin instead of glass for the large panoramic sunroof, saving 40 per cent over the glass unit.

Radar-directed adaptive cruise control is standard, with the radar also doing double duty in the vehicle’s pre-crash safety system that not only warns the driver but prepares safety systems such as brakes and seatbelts for imminent impact.

Last month, Toyota Australia slashed Prius hatchback prices by up to $7500, with the entry-level model now offered for $34,990 and the up-market Prius i-Tech from $45,990.

The price realignment was triggered by the arrival of the luxury Lexus CT200h at $39,990.

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