Toyota's improved Prius is back in production

September 16, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
There is a green car expo going on this weekend in Richmond. It's at the same place where Friday Toyota introduced its latest version of the best selling Prius. Getting them built was delayed by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, but it is finally here.

Hybrids are quiet so they're adding a motor sound for the 2012. Toyota showed off four new versions of their Prius. It is an automotive success with more than a million sold in 10 years. And in the Bay Area Prius outsells the nation's top passenger car, the Camry. Now, there is a new model -- a plug-in hybrid.

"It has an additional battery pack capacity in it. You can just plug it in to your household's 120 outlet, charge the battery in 2.5 to 3 hours, and it will give you 15 miles of range, up to 60 miles an hour, pure electric even before the hybrid system turns on," said vice president of Toyota's motor sales in the US Bob Carter.

The earthquake and tsunami disasters in Japan were devastating for Toyota. Sales dropped by nearly 8 percent because they couldn't build cars. The head of production says they needed to prioritize the cars customers want. A Toyota researcher believes hybrids will make up 20 percent of the auto market by 2020. Does fuel economy motivate buyers?

"In the end it may not be about dollars and cents, but all about do you want to buy less gas or not," said Toyota researcher David Lee.

Toyota says this gets 87 miles per gallon, with the combination of electric and hybrid. The key is to get the vehicle. Because of the tsunami, there has been a delay in production, but now they are getting back up to speed.

They'll start taking orders in October with a March 2012 delivery.

"Some of our suppliers that made some of the electronic pieces were affected, so that affected our production for a while. But now that's all covered. Japan is rebuilding and we're back to 100 percent," said Carter.

It's been a rough time for Toyota from the natural disasters to the stuck accelerator pedal traced to double floor mats. Now it's about their future and the fate of the Japanese economy.