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Toyota Prius To Be Built In U.S. At Last, But Not Until 2015

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2010 Toyota Prius with 2009 model--can you spot the differences?

2010 Toyota Prius with 2009 model--can you spot the differences?

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The Toyota Prius is the world's highest-selling hybrid vehicle and the third best-selling Toyota car in the U.S.

Now, after one failed attempt, it appears that Prius production will come to North America--but not until 2015 or thereabouts, as Toyota first acknowledged back in July 2010.

Koie Saga, a senior managing director for Toyota drivetrain research, said the company was targeting that year to kick off Prius assembly in the U.S.

But that won't happen until Toyota is ready to launch the fourth-generation Prius, which would likely be a 2016 model launched sometime during 2015.

The task now, Saga told trade journal Automotive News (subscription required), is to find North American suppliers for the Prius's specialized components: high-voltage battery packs, electric motors and planetary gearsets, and power electronics.

Saga said 2016 Priuses built in the U.S. would likely give up the longstanding use of nickel-metal hydride battery packs and switch to a lithium-ion battery, which would weigh less and by that point could be cost-competitive with the older cell chemistry.

The 2010 Toyota Prius was originally meant to have a lithium-ion pack, but Saga told journalists in January 2010 that the company had bet on the wrong lithium chemistry--so it fell back on tried-and-true nickel-metal hydride cells.

2012 Toyota Prius

2012 Toyota Prius

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While Toyota currently builds small numbers of Camry Hybrids in Kentucky, using parts imported from Japan, the Prius would be its first vehicle to use hybrid components built in the U.S.

Toyota tried once before to bring Prius assembly to the States. Its assembly plant in Blue Spring, Mississippi, was originally meant to produce Highlander sport utility vehicles, but in the face of the 2008 gas-price spike, Toyota changed gears and said it would build the Prius there instead.

That plan was put on hold during the economic downturn, and in June 2010 the company decided to build its high-volume Corolla sedan there instead--making up for capacity lost when Toyota shut down its Fremont, California, joint-venture plant with GM.

The Fremont plant was later sold to Tesla Motors, which will use it to build the Model S electric sport sedan it plans to start selling within a few months.

If Toyota holds true to its pattern, it will unveil the 2016 Prius at the Detroit Auto Show in January 2015.

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