The third-generation Prius, revealed at the Detroit auto show this week, has a tough act to follow and tough competitors ahead, but Toyota executives and industry analysts said the company has a shot at reaching its sales goals because of the vehicle's distinctive styling and impressive fuel efficiency.
DETROIT — The third-generation Prius, revealed at the Detroit auto show this week, has a tough act to follow and tough competitors ahead, but Toyota executives and industry analysts said the company has a shot at reaching its sales goals because of the vehicle’s distinctive styling and impressive fuel efficiency.
The smaller Prius it replaces became the symbol for the whole class of hybrid vehicles and an emblem for environmental responsibility and fuel efficiency. The model faces far more competition this year as Honda and Ford introduce additional hybrid vehicles to their line-ups.
Toyota hopes to sell 400,000 of the vehicles globally by 2010, putting Prius sales at the level of the Toyota Camry, the nation’s best-selling passenger car. Consumers bought 436,617 Camrys last year. Toyota also said it expects sales of the new Prius in its first full calendar year in the United States to reach 180,000 units.
This year, Honda plans to begin selling its Honda Insight hybrid for less than the price of the Prius — as much as $4,000 less — and Ford is adding the Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids to its hybrid offerings.
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Toyota executives are basing their forecasts on expectations that fuel prices will increase over the long term, the leadership position the company has staked out with the Prius and the fact that the vehicle is already the company’s third-best selling vehicle.
“More than 90 percent of current Prius owners said they intend to buy another Prius,” said Bob Carter, Toyota division group vice president and general manager.
During its unveiling, a silver 2010 Prius drove up the aisle of the Riverview Ballroom at Cobo Center in Detroit.
Toyota promises that the new Prius will score an EPA rating of 50 mpg in combined city and highway driving, up from a combined EPA figure of 46 mpg for the current model.
Carter said it will be “the highest-mileage car sold in America.”
Tom Libby, senior director of sales and analysis for J.D. Power and Associates, said he expects Toyota will sell 187,000 Prius cars in 2010.
“So we’re pretty much in line with Toyota,” Libby said. “Their claim of 50 mpg will be a big draw and a big help.”
Toyota sold 158,884 Priuses in 2008, according to Autodata Corp.
Toyota first began selling the Prius in Japan in 1997. It brought the vehicle to North America in 2000 and said the new Prius will reach showrooms by late spring.
The 2010 Prius is 0.6 inches longer and 0.8 inches wider than the previous model. Toyota promises increased cargo space in the hatchback because of a redesigned cooling system for the hybrid’s batteries. Rear legroom increases slightly because of redesigned front seatbacks.
The Prius’ looks remain instantly recognizable, but Toyota created a wedgier shape by moving the highest point in the roof 3.9 inches aft. A new grille features a big, unmistakable Toyota badge.
Eric Fedewa, vice president of global powertrain forecasts for CSM Worldwide, said it’s difficult for other manufacturers to design hybrid vehicles that look substantially different from the Prius. In order to obtain the desired fuel efficiency, manufacturers must design a very aerodynamic body, which winds up looking like the Prius.
Indeed, the design of Honda’s Insight was immediately compared with the Prius when photos were first revealed last year.
“More future vehicles will take the shape of the Prius,” Fedewa said. “They are going to continue to have a visual brand image.”
In addition to its hybrid system, the Prius adds new features including adaptive cruise control and a lane-departure warning system.
As an option, Toyota plans to offer a solar sun roof that automatically powers the ventilation system on hot days. It allows fresh air to circulate in the vehicle to cool the cabin, Carter said. The air-conditioning won’t have to work as hard and cuts back on battery use.