Toyota announced a year ago that it would apply the Prius model name not only to the current five-door hatchback, but to other hybrid vehicles as well.

The first of these will be a 2012 Toyota Prius minivan, variously called the Prius Alpha or Prius Verso, though we don't yet know exactly what model name it will carry in the U.S.

We've shown some early renderings scanned from Japanese magazines, but now we have a better photo, from the front three-quarter view (along with a copy of an earlier rear image from a Japanese magazine).

2012 Toyota Prius Verso small seven-seat minivan

2012 Toyota Prius Verso small seven-seat minivan

The Europeans call these small minivans MPVs, for Multi-Purpose Vehicles. Right now, the only vehicle of this size sold in the U.S. is the Mazda5, an all-new version of which will be unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show this fall.

Ford will also offer the C-Max, a similar-sized vehicle built on the platform of the 2012 Ford Focus compact car, as a 2012 model.

But neither the Mazda nor the Ford will offer a hybrid option, so after a decade of waiting, those Prius owners whose family has expanded can now turn to their Toyota dealers.

The Prius Verso will have seven seats in three rows, but its mechanicals and footprint are unchanged from the current Prius five-door hatchback. The body is both longer and taller to accommodate the third-row seat.

Whether it will be the first Prius fitted with a lithium-ion battery pack, replacing the older nickel-metal-hydride pack, remains to be seen.

The 2012 Toyota Prius small minivan will be formally introduced at the 2011 Detroit Auto Show, and will arrive at dealers in March.

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