Toyota may launch Prius by Jan...


Toyota will kickstart its hybrid plans for India after years of speculation and backroom chat. The Prius is being seriously considered for an Indian launch and could hit showrooms as early as December 2009 or January 2010.

The news was confirmed by Kazvo Okamoto, vice-chairman and member of the board at Toyota Motor Corporation. “The car is ready for launch in India and we are now looking at developing strategies to market the car,” he said. Toyota hasn’t taken a decision on the exact time, but is looking at doing a special preview of the car at the upcoming Auto Expo in January 2010.

Internationally, the Prius has been targeted at Hollywood actors, ecologically conscious individuals and opinion leaders, which has helped Toyota sell over 600,000 units of the hybrid car in less than a decade, while ramping up overall installed capacity to a similar number. “We might consider a strategy where the car might be sold by invitation,” Okamoto said. This might mean Toyota may also target Bollywood actors to spread the word, especially since the car will be priced between Rs 25 lakh and Rs 30 lakh.

So far, the only hybrid car to be sold in India has been the Honda Civic hybrid, that met with lukewarm success. Priced at over Rs 21 lakh when first launched in 2008, prices were slashed by Rs 8 lakh to attract more customers, for whom the regular Civic was available at Rs 12-13 lakh. The deterrent for Honda was the high level of import duty, pegged at around 110 per cent, as the Government of India doesn’t extend import duty benefits on alternative technology cars just yet.

While the Prius is sold in two versions — a luxury and a sport model — it is the former that is being considered for India. The Prius is powered by a combination of two powertrains — a petrol engine and an electric motor. The petrol engine is a 1.8-litre, four-cylinder mill with 98 bhp, while the electric motor, aided by a battery pack, takes the combined power to 134 bhp.

The advantage of the Prius hybrid is that it produces carbon dioxide emissions much lower than the required levels to meet the upcoming Bharat Stage-IV norms in April 2010, while increasing fuel efficiency at the same time. Toyota claims that its CO2 emissions are 43 per cent lower, while being about 20-30 per cent more fuel-efficient than a similar petrol-powered car.