Toyota Motor Corp launched its first dedicated hybrid model under the premium Lexus brand on Tuesday, saying it had received orders worth six months of targeted sales in Japan.
The launch of the HS250h sedan marks the latest push by the world's biggest automaker to drive fuel-sipping hybrids into the mainstream as governments around the world tighten emissions and fuel economy regulations while offering consumers incentives to purchase less-polluting cars.
Toyota expects to sell an average 500 units a month in Japan of the HS250h, which does not have the unique design characteristics of instantly recognizable Prius hybrid, but like the Prius is only available as a gasoline-electric model.
Thanks to the green-car tax and a hybrid boom fanned by the Prius in Japan, we've already gotten 3,000 orders, Senior Managing Director Toshio Furutani said at the launch.
The model will be sold in the United States and Canada from September, Toyota said. Until the end of 2009, Toyota plans to produce about 3,000 units a month.
Furutani said hybrids had become a major driver for the Lexus brand, which has struggled to sell in Japan since its domestic launch in 2005.
In the first six months of 2009, Lexus sales plunged 38 percent from the year-earlier period to 9,293 units. About 30 percent of those were a hybrid, a Toyota spokesman said.
The HS250h, powered by a 2.5-liter engine, starts at 3.95 million yen ($42,460) in Japan, making it the cheapest model in the Lexus line-up and eligible for a maximum 267,000 yen ($2,870) in eco-car tax breaks.
The HS250h has listed mileage in Japan of 23.0 km/liter, comparable to a Vitz subcompact.
HYBRID PRODUCTION IN EUROPE?
Toyota has a goal of selling at least 1 million hybrid vehicles a year within the next few years and has said it would offer the hybrid option on all of its models by around 2020.
Days after taking the helm at the company founded by his grandfather, President Akio Toyoda said last month that Toyota would shift its focus in the diesel-heavy European market to hybrid vehicles as part of a new effort to use its resources more selectively.
Japanese industry daily Nikkan Jidosha Shimbun said Toyota has decided to produce a gasoline-electric version of its Auris hatchback at its British factory around 2012, in what would mark its first locally produced hybrid car in Europe.
A spokeswoman said Toyota could not comment on future product plans.
The Auris, part of the popular Corolla series, was Toyota's third-best-selling model in Europe during the first five months of this year after the Yaris and Aygo subcompact models.
Toyota builds most of its hybrid vehicles in Japan, but also produces a small number of Prius cars in China and the Camry hybrid in Kentucky.
It is scheduled to begin production of the Camry hybrid in Thailand later this month, and in Australia next year. The Prius is also planned for production at a new Mississippi plant but has been delayed due to the economic crisis.