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Toyota Says Rechargeable Prius Is Lowest-Cost U.S. Plug-in

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest seller of gasoline-electric cars, said the rechargeable version of its Prius hybrid will cost $32,000 when it goes on sale early next year, less than General Motors Co.’s Volt.

The car goes as far as 15 miles solely on electricity, after which it runs as a standard 49 mpg Prius, Bob Carter, Toyota’s group vice president for U.S. sales, told reporters today in Richmond, California, near Oakland. The Toyota City, Japan-based company’s dealers start selling the car in 14 states on the West and East Coasts in March, he said.

The plug-in Prius’ lithium-ion batteries recharge from a standard wall outlet and don’t require installation of costly charging equipment. The car will qualify for a $2,500 federal tax credit, Carter said.

“This will be the most affordable plug-in in the market,” he said.

Toyota plans to offer at least four Prius models, including the Prius v wagon that goes on sale next month and a compact version next year, anticipating higher demand for fuel-saving vehicles. Prius will outsell Camry, the nation’s top-selling car line, to become Toyota’s most popular models by the end of the decade, Carter said.

GM has said its 2012 model Chevrolet Volt will cost $39,145, before a $7,500 federal tax credit. That rechargeable model goes about 35 miles on electricity per charge, before a gasoline engine engages to power the vehicle.

GM’s Volt

“Toyota will have the advantage of using the Prius name, which is almost a brand of its own,” said Michael Omotoso, senior manager of global powertrain for industry forecaster J.D. Power & Associates. “Right now the market is very small. The only vehicle to compare the plug-in to is the Chevy Volt.”

U.S. sales of the rechargeable Prius should be about 15,000 units in its first 12 months on the market, he said. It can average more than 80 mpg, based on company tests, Carter said.

The company’s goal is “a little conservative,” said Omotoso, who is based in Troy, Michigan.

With the plug-in, “there’ll be a little bit of cannibalization with the regular Prius,” he said “But they can also get some conquest sales from people considering Leaf and Volt, but who are maybe a little bit hesitant because of price or range issues.”

Additionally, Toyota said today the Prius v wagon will have a $26,400 starting price. That model averages 42 mpg in combined city and highway driving, compared with 50 mpg for a standard Prius that has a starting price of $23,520.

Toyota’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California. The company’s American depositary receipts, each representing two ordinary shares, fell 40 cents to $70.81 at 4:05 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading.

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