Toyota: Prius Plug-in needs more marketing
TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. says it misjudged the market for its Prius Plug-in, which went on sale in Japan in January and in the United States in the spring. The solution: more marketing and, maybe, revised styling.
From December through August, Toyota sold 15,600 Prius Plug-ins worldwide, including almost 6,100 in the United States. Two years ago, Toyota had forecast global volume of about 56,000 a year, with 15,000 in the United States.
"We need more sales activities because plug-in hybrids are very new to customers. It needs some plugs and external charging," which may require equipment in an owner's garage, said Satoshi Ogiso, the engineer who oversees the Prius family of vehicles. "Before the launch timing, we did a lot of preparation, but not enough to meet customers' expectations."
Another problem may be dated styling. The plug-in arrived two years after the launch of the third-generation Prius sedan -- with nearly identical external styling. Nothing sets it apart as new.
Ogiso hinted at changes in the next regular Prius' styling, saying it would likely be lower in the front and higher in the back, with a pulled-forward cabin. The design of the fourth-generation Prius should be finalized in six to 12 months, he said. Toyota hasn't said when it will launch the next Prius but is expected to do so around 2014.
Top goals are improving fuel economy and aerodynamics. Expect more extensive underpaneling to smooth airflow under the car, Ogiso said.
Toyota hasn't decided whether the next-generation Prius will shift to lithium ion batteries from the current nickel-metal hydride batteries, he said. Lithium ion batteries have performance and weight advantages over nickel-metal hydride batteries and already are used in the Prius Plug-in. But the regular Prius has used nickel-metal hydride since its 1997 debut, giving those batteries considerable economies of scale and hence a big cost edge.
Toyota currently has capacity to source 1 million nickel-metal hydride batteries a year in Japan vs. only 50,000 lithium ion batteries, Ogiso said. "So for Toyota, nickel-metal hydride is very cheap." c
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