Toyota wants to sell 12,000-13,000 Prius plug-in hybrid-electric vehicles in the U.S. this year to remain competitive with plug-in and EV competitors, Toyota Div. Group Vice President Bill Fay says.

The auto maker delivered 12,750 Prius PHEVs last year, WardsAuto data shows, besting higher-profile models such as the Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi i, yet falling shy of the 23,461 Chevy Volts sold in 2012.

Deals on the Prius PHEV, which went on sale here in spring 2012, have been abundant. Fay says incentives are necessary because the car is in a competitive niche segment.

“I don’t know that we have to necessarily go around and match everybody,” he tells WardsAuto in an interview. “But I think we have to be cognizant of the world those shoppers are operating in…and we have to be sure we offer the same kind of value when they go to buy the vehicle.”

Prius PHEV deals vary across the country. A search on Cars.com’s consumer incentives database shows dealers in New York City are offering some of the best spiffs.

For example, car buyers in the Manhattan 10036 zip-code area can receive a $6,500 discount on a ’12 Prius plug-in, or $4,650 off a ’13 model. That compares with a $500 rebate for the ’12 Prius hybrid and Prius V and no cash back on the ’12 Prius C and Toyota RAV4 EV.

Toyota’s spiffs on the Prius in the Manhattan area are better than competing models such as Ford’s ’13 C-Max and Fusion PHEVs, both of which offer a $3,750 discount, or Nissan’s Leaf EV that does not offer cash rebates.

The situation is reversed in Southern California, where discounts on the Leaf can add up to $10,150 cash back for a ’12 model compared with a $1,650 maximum cash rebate on the Prius PHEV.

The ’13 Prius plug-in starts at $32,000 for the base model and rises to $39,525 for an Advanced grade, which adds light-emitting diode headlights, navigation and a heads-up display.

The Chevy Volt, in comparison, starts in the $39,000 range but has a larger lithium-ion battery pack, doubling the Prius’ roughly 15-mile (24-km) battery-power-only maximum.

Toyota is confident about the car’s prospects, citing the carpool culture in California as a key reason for the PHEV’s existence.

Standard hybrids, such as the regular Prius, no longer are allowed to travel in the state’s carpool lanes with a single occupant. However, enhanced advanced-technology partial zero-emission vehicles, such as the Prius plug-in and Volt, are permitted to use those lanes.

Solo-passenger zero-emissions vehicles, which include most battery-powered EVs, and super-ultra-low-emissions vehicles fueled by compressed natural gas, also are allowed access to the high-occupancy lanes.

Judging by first-year Prius plug-in sales, buying is proving more popular than leasing, Fay says.

Yet, Toyota continues to emphasize leasing in its advertising. “I think in the long run it’s going to be a good lease vehicle.”

The ’13 Prius plug-in base model can be leased for $229 a month for 36 months until April 1, and lessees are eligible for $4,650 bonus cash, according to buyatoyota.com, the website of U.S. Toyota dealer associations.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com