DETROIT – After besting its 2012 target of 220,000 Prius sales in the U.S. by 16,000 units,is holding back on releasing a sales goal for its popular hybrid series for 2013.
The reason is contradictory fuel-price projections, says Bob Carter, senior vice president-U.S. automotive operations.
While he believes volume will grow, thanks to a full year’s supply of the V wagon and C subcompact derivatives unavailable in 2012, the question is, by how much?
“The jury’s out on what’s happening with fuel prices,” Carter tells WardsAuto in an interview during the 2013 North American International Auto Show here.
“There’s some schools of thought that we’ll go back into a traditional spring spike,” he says. “Then there’s other research out that (indicates) fuel prices are going to stay flat for the year.”
American car buyers traditionally have embraced hybrids, particularly the Prius, when fuel prices spike. “It motivates people to accelerate their purchase,” Carter observes.
In contrast to the scant inventories of past years,will have sufficient supplies of all Priuses, including the original liftback model, he promises.
The Prius is the rare Toyota-brand model that is sold in the U.S. but still built only in Japan.
Carter says it is “inevitable” that the auto maker will build the car in the U.S, but he does not offer a timetable.
“This is not an official announcement, but it shouldn’t be expected within this generation,” he says. “Perhaps (in) future generations, we’ll continue to look at (local assembly).”
Toyota intended to build the current-generation Prius in the U.S. But the recession forced it to change gears and instead build the Corolla at its newest U.S. plant in Blue Springs, MS.
Local production of the Prius keeps with Toyota’s principle of building where it sells, as well as shielding the auto maker against currency fluctuations, Carter says, noting the strong yen is adding costs to vehicles assembled in Japan and imported to the U.S.
announced this week its decision to switch to U.S. production of the Leaf electric vehicle will be the main reason for that car’s $6,000 price reduction for '14.
Carter does not speculate on whether similar cost savings could be realized by building the Prius in the U.S.