Miller: "We can't ask customers to continue to wait five months for a product."
A lower-level official says an extra 12,500 to 15,000 Priuses might go to the United States by the end of 2004. That would be in addition to the 47,000 allocated to the U.S. market this year.
But Cho said Toyota has no immediate plans to boost Prius output beyond the current level by, for example, building the car in a second plant.
A shortage of key components such as batteries rules out further output increases, Cho said. Batteries for the Prius are made by a joint venture between Toyota and Matsushita Electric Industrial Co.
If Toyota can solve the parts-shortage problem, Toyota might build the hybrid in a second plant, a Toyota official in the United States told Automotive News.
No U.S. plant for now
Cho threw cold water on suggestions that Toyota might build the hybrid car in the United States.
"We haven't concretely considered whether Prius can be produced in the United States or not," he said.
U.S. shoppers must wait six to seven months for a Prius. Buyers who can get one in some cases pay $5,000 over sticker. Some dealers have stopped taking orders for 2004 Priuses. In turn, some customers are giving up and leaving showrooms unhappy.
Until last December, Toyota's allocation system gave Japan and the United States roughly the same number of Prius sedans. Then Toyota tilted the system in favor of Japan, even though the U.S. market has taken more Priuses over the life of the vehicle.
Toyota in December raised the 2004 U.S. allocation of Prius cars by 34 percent, from 35,000 set in September to 47,000. It nearly doubled the 2004 Japan allocation from 36,000 to 70,000.
Toyota also raised Prius output in April from 7,500 a month to 10,000 a month. It plans to build 130,000 this year, including 10,000 to be made on overtime and Saturdays.
At the time, the shortage of Priuses in Japan was comparable to that in the United States. But today Japanese consumers have to wait only about six weeks for a Prius.
Cho said he is aware of the ill will building up toward Toyota because of the lack of Priuses in the United States.
"I have received many letters complaining about the Prius shortage," he said.
"With the production increase, I think we'll be able to alleviate the Prius shortage."
Yoshio Ishizaka, Toyota's executive vice-president for overseas operations, said, "We are increasing the allocation for overseas markets." But, he said, "I can't give you an exact number."
Toyota spokesman Shigeru Hayakawa said that starting "this month or next, the incremental increase of production from April will go to the United States." That means the added output of roughly 2,500 a month that started in April will be earmarked for the United States
"From now on the situation will get better," Hayakawa said.
Irv Miller, group vice president of corporate communications for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc., told Automotive News that the automaker has reached a breaking point with its popular gasoline-electric hybrid.
Miller said Toyota has considered increasing the line speed at the company's plant in Toyota City, converting an existing line at another plant to Prius production or building a second factory.
"The investment issue is an ongoing debate," he said. "There could be further expansions of Prius production outside (Japan). It depends on what worldwide need is.
"I would be surprised if (Toyota) does not respond with some kind of increase in Prius production and allocation to the United States," Miller said. "Our belief is that we can sell significantly more than what our current sales volume is."
Increased competition might force Toyota's decision.
Hybrid versions of the Honda Accord, Ford Escape and other vehicles will be introduced this year. Miller said Toyota wants to take care of customers who want a Prius "while we can have some exclusivity in the marketplace. We don't want to lose those hand-raisers to other manufacturers if we can help it."
But Toyota needs an immediate plan, Miller said.
"We can't wait a whole heck of a lot longer to come up with a solution to this," he said. "We can't ask customers to continue to wait five months for a product. It's just too long, particularly in light of the fact that more hybrids are going to be on the market shortly."
Said Miller: "Frankly speaking, we're greedy, and we don't want to lose the market share we've built up and the customers that have raised their hands."