The Toyota Prius, America’s most popular hybrid car, will become a family of vehicles, Toyota announced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit Monday.
Toyota made the announcement at it unveiling of the FT-CH small hybrid concept car.
The new Prius brand will take years to develop, said Bill Reinert, Toyota’s national manager for advanced technology. The Prius cars would all be unique hybrid-only vehicles, not hybrid versions of existing cars.
The Toyota Prius is the best-selling hybrid car in America. On its own, it accounts for more than half of all hybrids sold in America. It is Toyota’s third best-selling model after the Camry mid-sized sedan and the Corolla compact car.
“I think hybrids will gradually move toward mainstream acceptance,” he said. “We’ve been doing them for 10 years now and they’re one to two percent, so maybe another 10 years.”
Toyota’s move to expand its Prius brand may be a response to increased competition, said Jessica Caldwell, an industry analyst with the automotive Web site Edmunds.com
Honda recently introduced the Insight, a less expensive car similar to the Prius and Ford has been winning awards, and sales, with its new Fusion Hybrid sedan.
Toyota has announced plans to introduce a plug-in version of the Prius in 2011. Still, because of their reliance on expensive batteries, plug-in vehicles are likely to remain a minor factor in the auto industry for the foreseeable future, Reinert said.
“We see them as having certain niches,” he said. “We don’t see them as being a giant mainstream product like the Prius.
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