TOKYO -- Toyota will start leasing 150 of its Prius plug-in hybrids in the United States this winter and plans retail sales of tens of thousands in two years.
The North American arrival, scheduled for around February, is part of a global rollout of 600 units.
With a longer electric-only cruise range than the standard Prius, the plug-in is Toyota's answer to the Chevrolet Volt extended-range hybrid being launched next year by General Motors Co.
The plug-in Prius gets a lithium ion battery and will have an electric-only range of 14.5 miles before the gasoline engine kicks in and the car drives like the standard Prius hybrid.
The Volt also uses a lithium ion battery pack to power an electric motor for about 40 miles. After that a small gasoline engine recharges the battery but never runs the car.
Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada said Toyota plans retail sales of several tens of thousands of units in two years, after leasing them in the United States, Japan and Europe.
In the meantime, Toyota may tweak the technology and the design, especially for overseas markets where drivers may need bigger batteries to travel longer distances.
"We will see what happens in the field," Uchiyamada said at the launch of leasing in Japan. "We may have to adjust the number of batteries carried on board. So please stay tuned."
The plug-in Prius is nearly identical to the third-generation Prius launched earlier this year. It has the same electric motor and 1.8-liter gasoline engine as the standard Prius.
But the plug-in gets lithium ion batteries, instead of nickel-metal hydride ones. That allows for higher voltage and more energy storage.
Toyota said the retail plug-in Prius would be "affordable," but the company didn't give details on its retail or lease pricing. The leased cars will be used by governments and businesses.