Amidst a flurry of battery-electric vehicle announcements by automakers all over the globe, Toyota reiterated plans to launch six new hybrid models by 2012.
But the company will push back the U.S. launch date for its first plug-in vehicle, the 2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid.
Toyota had said this spring that it would launch the vehicle early in 2012, but that date has now slipped to May or June of that year, according to reports in Reuters. Based on our first drive assessment, the company may be working to ensure that the full battery pack can be recharged via regenerative braking--a feature the prototype, amazingly, didn't offer.
While the plug-in Prius is not a fully electric-drive car--its gasoline engine switches on and off depending on power demand and battery charge--Toyota plans to position it as the top-level model in the existing Prius range.
The company's product development chief, Takeshi Uchiyamada, was quoted by Reuters as syaing that Toyota's goal was to price the plug-in version of the Prius "so close to the current version that customers really have to hesitate and think about it."
We predicted exactly that strategy back in May, based on our discussion with U.S. Toyota staff. It's a smart move, in that the Prius name has huge brand equity in the United States, having been the epitome of green driving for almost a decade.
Toyota might even try to capture the title for the least-expensive plug-in vehicle on the U.S. market. The 2011 Leaf starts at $32,780 and the 2011 Chevrolet Volt at $41,000. The premium over a non-plug-in Prius will be $3,000 to $5,000, potentially putting it as low as $28,000. That's down substantially from a premium of "less than $10,000" quoted last year.
Whether by then the Prius hybrid will be under seige for the green crown by the all-electric 2011 Nissan Leaf--which will have been on sale for 18 months by the time Toyota's first plug-in arrives--remains to be seen.
Toyota also said it would add six new hybrids--either dedicated hybrid models or hybrid drive added to gasoline models that had not offered it before--by the end of 2012. Two of the new hybrids will be from Lexus, and four from Toyota.
One of the new Lexus hybrid models is the upcoming 2011 CT200h compact luxury hatchback, and we're betting that the other is a hybrid option for the ES midsize near-luxury sedan. That model is built using components from the Toyota Camry, which has been offered as a hybrid for several years now.
The new Toyota hybrids are a little harder to call, but we know that there will be a 2012 Toyota RAV4 hybrid model, which was confirmed back in February.
Beyond that, we expect one or two new Prius body styles--perhaps a Prius coupe, perhaps a tall station wagon--plus a smaller dedicated hybrid, as previewed by the FT-CH compact hybrid concept car shown at this year's Detroit Auto Show.