DETROIT – Toyota Motor Corp. will unveil the first in its new Prius family of vehicles at the North American International Auto Show in January in Detroit.

Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.’s Don Esmond makes the announcement today at an Automotive Press Assn. luncheon here.

Esmond, senior vice president-automotive operations for TMSUSA, won’t divulge any specifics on the model, including whether it will resemble the current Prius.

He points out that at this year’s Detroit show Toyota showed the concept FT-Ch on its stand, which is one potential design direction for the production Prius family model. FT-Ch stands for “future Toyota compact hybrid.”

“Certainly there is an opportunity and a market to have something a little smaller, little more fuel-efficient and a lot more affordable for younger buyers,” Esmond says following his presentation here.

The Prius family was championed by TMSUSA President Jim Lentz to expand on the high profile and brand attributes the Prius name carries in the U.S.

The Prius is one of Toyota’s best-selling models and the best-selling hybrid in the U.S. In the 10 years it has been on the market, Toyota has sold millions worldwide. Esmond says one of every two hybrids on the road in the U.S. today is a Prius, and three quarters of all U.S. hybrids in use are Toyotas.

It’s one of the reasons why he isn’t unnerved by forthcoming plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles, specifically the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf.

“Not one” Volt or Leaf has been sold yet, he says when asked about how the Prius will fare against those models.

In his speech, Esmond says Toyota is pleased with the performance of its dealers in handling repairs of recalled models this year. Toyota dealers “saved our butts,” he says.

He also says the auto maker is forecasting a 12 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual sales rate for October, based on the current sales pace, but still sees entire-2010 coming in at about 11.3 million-1.5 million – less than analysts’ more optimistic estimates made early in the year.

The TMSUSA official also defends Toyota’s Lexus luxury marque, eclipsed as the No.1 U.S. luxury brand year-to-date in sales by Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz.

Lexus actually has outsold Mercedes this year if you exclude “bread trucks sold by Freightliner,” Esmond says.

Incentives launched by Lexus earlier this month were not an effort to pass Mercedes for the year but to get rid of ’10-model inventory, he says.

Ward’s data shows Lexus sales at 162,438 through September, while Daimler delivered 170,381. That figure doesn’t incorporate Freightliner sales. But it does include Mercedes Sprinter light commercial van sales totaling 5,626 units, plus 4,779 Smart cars.

Esmond also defends Toyota’s current higher-than-normal incentives across all brands, saying they are “what it takes” to sell cars in the still-depressed U.S. retail market.

He claims Toyota leads in retail share in the U.S. this year, despite its recall scandal, and notes the next-generation Toyota’s Camry midsize car is due in 2011.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com