Toyota to Push Prius Mainstream

by : Lauren Woods

The Toyota Motor Corp. intends to push the Prius mainstream and offer incentives to boost its 2007 sales. The incentives are expected to amplify sales by 50 percent. Toyota also intends to offer low-interest loans to serve the same purpose.

With the new deals, auto purchasers could get their hands on the stunning Prius sedan without the need of putting their names on the long waiting list at dealerships or paying thousands of dollars beyond the book price for a used version. In regard Prius hybrid, the automaker is offering low-interest loan and lease incentives to boost sales in the United States by at least 50 percent. The zero-interest loans will be offered nationwide for 24 months. The lease will be offered for as low as $219 per month.

According to Bill Kwong, a company spokesman, Toyota's plan is to broaden the appeal of the Prius to more mainstream consumers. "Toyota wants to sell more vehicles and reduce the wait time and high premiums consumers often had to endure. Customers sometimes had to wait four to six months for a Prius and that led to customer dissatisfaction, so we want to make them happier," Kwong said. "We also want to make the Prius more affordable for consumers, and if they are on the fence over purchasing a Prius hopefully [these incentives] will push them over."

According to analysts, sales doldrums may have triggered the automaker to offer said inducements. Data from Global Insight, a market intelligence company, show that sales of the hybrid were flat in 2006, down to 106,971 units from 107,897 in 2005. "(These incentives) really show that the potential for hybrid sales is not unlimited, as some have said," noted Rebecca Lindland, a Global Insight analyst. Lindland added that while Toyota wants sales to increase to 160,000 units in 2007, Global Insight has a more conservative forecast of 125,000 to 135,000.

"The reason we have a hard time getting to the 150,000 number is there is increased competition in the overall hybrid market, and also when you do the economics of ownership, it's not always the best purchase for a lot of people," Lindland said.

Lindland further added, "Consumers are starting to question the additional expense of buying a hybrid, asking if they are saving money in the long run." According to her, the regular consumers who buy hybrid versions of popular passenger cars like the Honda Accord, which can cost some $3,000 more than a regular model, will need 10 to 12 years to break even in fuel savings, assuming the price of gas remains within the $2.50 to $3 range. Honda Accord hybrid is famed for its quality auto parts that include the , VTEC engine, LED taillights, heated side mirrors, daytime running lights (DRLs) and more.

The Toyota Prius hybrid, consequently, runs on both petrol and electric motor. Prius, the first mass produced hybrid was acclaimed for its sophisticated technology, low emissions and high fuel economy.

"We feel that there are a limited number of consumers for whom hybrids like Prius really fit into their lifestyles," Lindland said. "But delivery trucks, or garbage trucks - they are perfect for this type of vehicle because they do short city trips in stop-and-go traffic and they don't do a lot of highway driving. That's perfect for a hybrid."

Prius is said to be a favorite for environmentalists. While the current hybrid has a stated Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mileage return of 50 or 60 miles per gallon, only achievable when the vehicle is used around town or in stop-and-start driving in heavy traffic; long-distance driving or maneuvering the Prius on the highway will yield lesser mileage. In addition, EPA's new fuel economy testing procedures are expected to cut fuel economy estimates for cars like the Prius by an average of eight to twelve percent starting this year.