Toyota engineer aims to recharge sales for Prius plug-in

The car's chief engineer says the new generation of the plug-in Prius should sell much better than the prior one thanks to improved pricing and technology.

Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

The chief engineer of Toyota Motor’s Prius petrol hybrid cars said he would like the automaker to sell 1 million units of the new plug-in version over its product life cycle, saying the vehicle is set to become its showpiece “eco” car in the next decade or so.

With the plug-in Prius, which launches in Japan, North America and Europe in the coming months, the Prius chief engineer Koji Toyoshima said he would like to replicate the sales growth pattern of the conventional Prius.

Sales of each generation of the conventional Prius grew strongly – roughly 100,000 units for first generation launched in 1997, followed by 1 million for the next generation from 2003 and 2.5 million for the following generation from 2009.

Mr Toyoshima referred to the sales rises as its “hop”, “step”, and “jump” phases.

“We need to see that kind of volume with the plug-in during the upcoming ‘step’ phase, as we did with the second-generation conventional Prius, to achieve the momentum to get to the ‘jump’ phase,” he said.

Selling 1 million units over the model cycle, which usually runs about five years, would translate to about 200,000 units per year, eclipsing the 75,000 units sold worldwide during the “hop” phase of the first version, which launched in 2012.

Toyota stopped production of the first-generation plug-in last year, and has acknowledged that it sold poorly because of its limited range and relatively high price. The majority were sold in Japan and North America.

Mr Toyoshima said that he expected that Toyota’s official sales target for the second generation would likely be lower, given that demand for plug-in vehicles remains limited worldwide. Global plug-in hybrid sales accounted for 0.3 per cent of total passenger car and SUV sales last year, according to LMC Automotive.

Hitting the 1 million sales mark would take the automaker a step closer towards its goal of making all its new vehicles virtually free of carbon emissions by 2050. Tighter regulations are also requiring Toyota and other automakers to produce and market more lower emissions vehicles.

The Prius rose from being a favourite among tech-obsessed drivers and environmentally minded celebrities to become the world’s best selling “eco” car.

Like the conventional Prius, the plug-in operates on both a petrol engine and a battery-powered motor, but it can travel double the distance – roughly 35.4 kilometres) – in battery electric mode and can be recharged using a household socket.

Follow The National's Business section on Twitter