March 9 (Bloomberg) -- Toyota Motor Corp. will introduce new versions of the Prius in Japan as it seeks to boost its lead in sales of gasoline-electric hybrid cars.
Toyota will start selling 5-seater and 7-seater Prius wagons in Japan from late April and a compact version by the end of the year, Makoto Okabe, deputy chief engineer for the Prius “family” of cars, told reporters in Tokyo on March 7.
Toyota has sold more than 2 million Prius cars worldwide since its introduction in Japan in 1997, making it the world’s best-selling hybrid car. The Prius is a “pillar” model for the automaker, President Akio Toyoda said at the Detroit auto show in January. Unlike rival Nissan Motor Co., which started selling its Leaf electric car in December, Toyota is more cautious about demand for vehicles powered solely by batteries.
The Prius wagons are 155 millimeters (6 inches) longer, 30 millimeters wider and 85 millimeters taller than the standard version, providing more space for passengers and luggage.
The 5-seater, U.S. market “Prius v” wagon, which gets a combined 40 miles per gallon in city and highway driving, will also go on sale by the end of the third quarter of this year.
The 7-seater “Prius +,” unveiled at the Geneva auto show on March 1, will be sold in Europe.
To conserve space, the 7-seater car, which may have a different name in Japan, will be powered by a smaller lithium-ion battery, Okabe said. While the lithium-ion battery costs more than the nickel-metal hydride pack used in the 5-seater model, both have the same output, he said.
Toyota is also developing a plug-in hybrid and an all-electric car based on the iQ minicar for next year. Toyota also agreed last year to buy a $50 million stake in Palo Alto, California-based Tesla Motors Inc. to collaborate on an electric version of Toyota’s RAV4 sport-utility vehicle.
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