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Prius pips Insight for top car award in Japan

Highly charged: Toyota's Prius has been crowned Japan Car of the Year, just ahead of the Honda Insight.

Toyota Prius winning battle of the hybrids against Honda rival on home turf

Toyota logo28 Oct 2009

By RON HAMMERTON

THE Toyota Prius garnered more bragging rights over its hybrid rival, the Honda Insight, by winning the 2009 Japan Car of the Year title in one of the closest votes in the award’s 30-year history.

Already out-selling the Honda petrol-electric hybrid three to one in Japan and reigning as Japan’s top-selling car for five consecutive months after unseating the Insight from top spot, the third-generation Prius polled 433 votes to the Insight’s 391 to win the JCOTY count by 42 votes at the Tokyo motor show last week.

It was the second JCOTY win for the Prius, which took the 1997 crown in its first generation. It was also the second successive victory for Toyota, whose iQ micro car won the top prize last year.

The award is decided by 61 ‘jurors’ – primarily motoring journalists and industry representatives from across Japan – who gathered at the show for the vote-by-vote countdown on the final media preview day.

The shortlist this year comprised the Toyota Prius, Nissan Fairlady Z (370Z), Honda Insight, Mazda Axela (Mazda3), Mitsubishi i-MiEV, Subaru Legacy (Liberty), Volkswagen Golf, Mercedes E-class sedan and coupe, Volvo XC60 and Alfa Romeo MiTo.

8 center imageFrom top: Honda Insight, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and VW Golf.

Because the notoriously parochial award organised by the Japan Automobile Manufacturer's Association (JAMA) always goes to a Japanese-made car, a separate award for foreign cars – the Import Car of the Year award – is struck each year, this time going to the VW Golf, which also came third overall on 186 votes.

The Subaru Legacy won the Best Value crown, while the all-electric Mitsubishi i-MiEV picked up the Most Advanced Technology gong for its lithium-ion battery technology.

The entire 2009 production run of 1400 i-MiEVs destined for Japan have already been sold, and 900 orders have been received for the 2010 build allocation.

Flying in the face of the depressed conditions that have crippled the Japanese car market - once one of the world’s largest - the Prius is a hot item among trend-conscious Japanese consumers who have helped to push up sales of the hybrid by more than 300 per cent over last year’s levels.

In September, Prius buyers snapped up 31,758 units – up from 21,669 in August – giving the Toyota hybrid an astonishing 10.8 per cent of the Japanese passenger car market for the month.

By comparison, the fifth-placed Honda Insight achieved 10,289 sales, partly because Honda is flat out trying to meet production demands from global markets as it rolls out this model around the world. Insight’s Australian launch has been pushed back to late 2010 due to this stock shortage.

In Australia, Toyota sold 298 Prius in September, making it Toyota’s 13th best-selling model in a 17-vehicle range.

Launched in Australia in mid year, the new Prius has achieved 1039 sales in the past three months – about half of its year-to-date tally of 2250 units.

Toyota Australia senior executive director Dave Buttner said the Japanese award for Prius was an endorsement of the shift to hybrid.

"Toyota has led the development of hybrid and its exhibit at this year's Tokyo Show is clear indication of future commitment,” he said.

"Prius has been Japan's best-selling vehicle domestically this year, based on customer realisation of the compelling need to save fuel and contribute to environmentally well being." The third-generation Prius uses just 3.9 litres per 100km under the official Australian combined fuel test cycle. While that figure has been pipped by the Ford Fiesta Econetic diesel, on 3.7/L/100km, the Prius still wins on CO2 emissions, which are the lowest of any car on the Australian market at 89g per kilometre.

Toyota Australia plans to add a locally-made Hybrid Camry to its range next year.

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