DETROIT – Don’t look for specifics fromMotor Corp. on the much-hyped Prius Hybrid family of vehicles, as the Japanese auto maker still is trying to figure out what form such a strategy would take, a senior official says.
“Anything’s possible, we’re still sorting this whole thing out,” Jim Lentz, president-Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. tells media after a press conference here today at the 2010 North American International Auto Show.
Lentz is a long-time proponent of creating a Prius brand, based on the success of the nameplate and relative lack of awareness of Toyota’s Hybrid Synergy Drive moniker.
Possibilities for a future Prius lineup include the FT-Ch dedicated compact hybrid concept unveiled here today, as well as Toyota’s forthcoming electric vehicle, due in the ’12 model year and other possible Prius body styles.
Lentz also says the Japan-market Toyota Sai, based on the new Lexus HS 250h dedicated hybrid, could come to the U.S. to join the Prius family. However, the Sai is close in size to the current Camry Hybrid, as well as the Prius, so he isn’t sure Toyota would offer all three hybrids in the U.S.
The Prius and Camry are D-segment models, but the Sai/HS 250h are based on the European Avensis, a C-segment car.
As for the youth-oriented FT-Ch, it has no powertrain, as Toyota still is researching the appropriate displacement size for such a model.
“There is no engineer assigned to it. It is truly an exercise, this concept right now,” Lentz says. “We’ve haven’t even started testing it with customers, so its (possible market debut) is a ways off.”
Should the FT-Ch reach production, Lentz is confident that, marketed as an affordable hybrid, it would be more successful in the U.S. market than rivalMotor Co. Ltd.’s Insight.
released the Insight last year, predicting high sales volume for the car, which was billed as “more affordable” than other HEVs, including the Prius. So far, sales have been slow, with only 20,572 units sold in the U.S. last year, according to Ward’s data.
“I think there are definite differences between our execution of a full hybrid and Honda’s execution,” Lentz says. “If (the FT-Ch were) brought in as a full-hybrid execution, we feel there is a market today but also long-term down the road. This is the kind of investment, if we’re invested in a Prius family of vehicles, this is really a long-term investment for us.”
The Insight features Honda’s mild-hybrid Integrated Management Assist technology, while Toyota’s HSD is a full hybrid system, capable of propelling a vehicle on electricity only.
Lentz says pricing for a production FT-Ch hasn’t been determined, but contrary to popular belief, small cars can be cheaper to manufacture and sell due to the use of less glass and metal, smaller tires and small displacement engines.