World supplies of the highly popular Toyota Prius hybrid could be further threatened by new electric power problems in Japan.
The Japanese government requested on Friday, May 6, that the Hamaoka nuclear power plant system shut down all of its reactors, which supply to the central Japanese power grid. The plant has a similar design to the closed complex of six nuclear reactors damaged by the earthquake and tsunami on March 11.
Automobile factories are some of the biggest consumers of electrical power, and any reduction in grid supply may have a ripple effect on such factories. Toyota has major production facilities in the area served by the Hamaoka nuclear facilities; Mitsubishi and Suzuki also have production in this power system area.
Toyota officials reported in the Japanese press that the company is only producing at about 50 percent of its capacity, and it will "do everything possible to cooperate in conserving energy."
Over half of Japan's 54 nuclear power reactors are currently offline, and this is beginning to seriously tax the country's national power supply. Toyota's Aichi factory has not yet seen any shutdowns from the current power supply issue, but the closure of two more generators at the Hamaoka site cannot make this situation any better.
2011 Toyota Prius
The request from the Prime Minister Naoto Kan on Friday to suspend operation of all the nuclear facilities at Hamaoka was not an order, but it was taken very seriously by the governing board of Chubu Electric, which manages the power system at Hamaoka.
It appears that Chubu Electric will bring an older fossil-fuel power plant online to compensate for some of the lost power from the nuclear plants. Upgrading the nuclear facilities for better earthquake and tsunami protection could take as much as two to three years, the Nikkei report suggests.
The 2011 Prius is one of the vehicles produced at Toyota's plants in the Aichi region, and further power cuts there could well lead to additional reductions in supply.
With reports of U.S. dealers already selling 2011 Toyota Prius models at or above sticker price, given current gas prices of $4 a gallon--more in some areas--any reduction in the Prius supply is bound to have an impact on buyers of the fuel-efficient midsize hatchback.
The 2011 Toyota Prius is rated by the EPA at 50 mpg combined.
We'll keep you updated on the latest news about supplies of the Prius and other Japanese-made vehicles with high gas mileage ratings.