Toyota plans to get a head start on the competition by introducing the Yaris Verso - a vehicle it calls the 'first supermini multipurpose vehicle' - at the Frankfurt auto show next month.
The Yaris Verso was shown at the Geneva auto show in March as a concept car. Initially it will be sold only as a passenger vehicle, but Toyota is studying possible commercial applications.
The Yaris Verso will go on sale in most European countries after the Frankfurt show.
In addition, Toyota will give all Yaris models a more powerful engine option later this year. At Frankfurt, Toyota will introduce 1.3-liter versions of its three- and five-door Yaris, responding to critics who contend the current 1.0-liter engine is not powerful enough. The same 1.3-liter engine will power the Yaris Verso. Toyota has sold 63,700 units since the Yaris went on sale in Europe in March.
Toyota wants consumers, especially young families, to think of the Yaris Verso as practical and fun to drive.
Toyota says its new entrant has more interior space than the Renault Megane Scenic, a vehicle that is classified in the lower-medium segment, one step up from supermini.
NOW YOU SEE IT . . .
The rear seat of the Yaris Verso folds down into the floor and does not have to be removed. With the rear seat folded down, the vehicle has 20 percent more cargo space than the Megane Scenic.
The 1.3-liter version of Toyota's Variable Valve Timing-intelligent engine produces up to 85 hp at 6,000 rpm. Toyota will offer a choice of five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions.
The Yaris Verso will be built at Toyota's Takaoke plant in Japan and will be made in Japan for the foreseeable future. The standard three- and five-door versions of the Yaris will be built at Valenciennes, France, from 2001.
The Verso debuts as its sister vehicle, the Yaris, has enjoyed a strong launch. Toyota is struggling to import enough units to Europe to keep up with demand.
Toyota fears that European curbs on Japanese imports, which expire Dec. 31, will not let Toyota meet demand in southern Europe. The 1999 quotas were based on the assumption the European market would drop 2 percent this year.
Instead, sales have increased 7.4 percent through May. The Japanese quota will not be adjusted until the autumn - too late to boost imports to southern Europe.