Car sales, if not profit margins, in China are flying this year and Toyota, which is on track to smash an annual target of 430,000 units, is among the biggest beneficiaries. Just don’t expect too many Prius hybrids on the streets of Shanghai.
Despite much fanfare surrounding the launch of the Prius in December 2005, the locally made gas sippers are yet to catch the Chinese public’s imagination. Speaking at a recent Toyota event at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, Toyota executive vice president Takeshi Uchiyamada admitted sales are falling along way short of expectations. Uchiyamada said that Toyota only sold 2,000 Prius last year in China—half the original plan—and that sales closer to 500 were likely this year.
It’s not hard to spot the problem. Thanks to high duties on imported parts used in the assembly of the Chinese Prius at a plant in the north eastern city of Changchun, the hybrids went on sale at $36,000. That’s about $15,000 higher than the equivalent price in Japan or the U.S. and enough to put off even the greenest of Chinese auto buyers from ordering a new Prius.