2010 Toyota PriusEnlarge Photo
The convoluted twists and turns of possible Prius production in the U.S. have taken another unexpected bend. A Toyota executive has now told Reuters that the company intends to build the quintessential hybrid in the States, but not until its next generation is launched.
That would be in 2016, since the current third-generation 2010 Toyota Prius is a brand-new design, only on sale since the spring of 2009.
The history begins in September 2008, when soaring gas prices led to shortages of all hybrid cars. That month, Toyota announced it would build the Prius at a new plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi.
The greenfield Blue Springs plant had originally been intended for production of the 2010 Toyota Highlander sport-utility vehicle. But then fuel prices soared, U.S. production of the company's seminal hybrid-electric hatchback made sense, and the plant was reassigned.
Then came the economic recession. Only three months after that announcement, Toyota put its plans on hold as global auto sales plummeted. It finished closing in the plant, which remained an empty shell.
Toyota site in Blue Springs, Mississippi, from Flickr user CochranForSenateEnlarge Photo
2010 Toyota Camry HybridEnlarge Photo
Highlander production instead was moved to Princeton, Illinois, at a factory that previously built full-size Tundra pickup trucks (which had been moved to Texas--are you with us so far?).
Then, just last month, Toyota said it would build its high-volume Corolla sedan in the moth-balled Mississippi factory. It had to be relocated from the company's joint-venture plant in Fremont, California, after a bankrupt General Motors pulled out of the venture.
So right now, Toyota builds only a single hybrid in the U.S., the 2010 Camry Hybrid, which is built along with other Camry models in a Kentucky plant.
Atsushi Niimi, the executive vice president quoted by Reuters, said the electric components of the Prius were "not mature enough for local production." That might be a surprise to Ford, which has been building hybrids of equal complexity in North America since 2004.