Toyota to sell new Prius in China from early 2010 image

Toyota Motor plans to start selling its latest generation Prius cars in China next year, possibly as early as March, the Wall Street Journal reported today, citing Toyota executives.

The decision by the Japanese auto giant comes despite poor sales of the gasoline-electric Prius hybrid car in China in recent years. Toyota is targeting sales of 3,000 new Prius cars a year in China. That was also the annual target for the original Prius, launched in China in late 2005.

However, sales of Prius made by joint venture FAW Toyota have been sluggish, partly because of the car’s high price of up to 280,000 yuan ($41,000). Toyota managed to sell only 550 Prius vehicles last year, down from slightly less than 1,000 in 2007.

China’s central government will introduce a further consumer-incentive program to spur sales of all-electric battery cars, hybrids and other “new energy” cars, and this gives Toyota optimistic expectations of higher Prius sales in the coming years.

The launch of the new hybrid in China has been delayed mainly by its popularity in Japan, as key parts are not readily available to supply Toyota’s Chinese venture. Toyota sold 27,712 Prius cars in July, when the Prius hybrid was Japan’s best-selling car for a second straight month after its launch in Japan in May.

Another reason for the delay is that Toyota is still waiting for official Chinese approval to market the new Prius. However, Toyota already has told its dealers in China about the decision to launch the new Prius in early 2010.