Thursday, October 22, 2009

Toyota to launch Prius next year in India, small car by early 2011

Tokyo, Oct. 21 After what seemed to be a lull in its new vehicle plans for India, Toyota Kirloskar Motor (TKM) will launch a slew of new cars during the next 14 months.

The Fortuner sports utility vehicle was launched last month. The new Land Cruiser Prado is also being considered for a possible introduction. But next to hit the roads will be the Prius (pronounced pree-us) — Toyota’s first and most successful hybrid passenger car. Of course, the car that is most keenly awaited will be the small hatchback. It is expected to be launched by the end of 2010 and will, finally, mark the car major’s entry into the mass-market segment in India.

Talking to a section of the Indian media on the sidelines of the 41st Tokyo Motor Show here, Mr Kazuo Okamoto, Vice-Chairman and Member of the Board, Toyota Motor Corporation, said that the company was lagging behind in the Indian market, but that it will catch up soon with the rest of the competition.

As part of the plans to offer more vehicles to buyers in India, Toyota has decided to launch the Prius there by January 2010. After first being showcased at the upcoming Auto Expo in Delhi, the Prius will be available for purchase at Toyota showrooms.

The Prius is a standalone hybrid car, which seamlessly integrates an electric motor that is powered by a Lithium-ion battery pack and a regular gasoline engine using Toyota’s proprietary Hybrid Synergy Drive system.

The car is likely to be imported in the CBU (completely built unit) form from Japan and marketed in India. It is an extremely low emission vehicle and it is expected to help Toyota make a statement regarding its environment-friendly technologies.

TKM sources feel that though the car will be launched in January, its availability will be limited due to heavy demand from buyers in markets such as the US and Japan.

Toyota has carried forward its hybrid technology into its other cars such as the Camry and the Crown. Speaking about the possibility of carrying forward its hybrid technology into the new small car, Mr Okamoto said that at this moment, the company is considering a hybrid in the small car too.

Small car hub

“Technically, the new small car platform is capable of also being used for a hybrid version. But there are no specific plans for it currently,” he said.

Speaking about the importance of the new small car, Mr Okamoto said that depending on the success of the hatch, the Indian operations of TKM could well become the global small car hub for Toyota. “That is the direction we will be taking, but a lot depends on the performance of the new small car in India,” he said.

The small car is currently being developed in Japan with considerable inputs from TKM and will meet all the quality parameters required by Toyota. The domestic market is likely to be the initial focus for the new small car and in the future it is likely to evolve into a global model that can cater to other markets too. With the addition of the small car to its portfolio and the possibility of a sedan also being built on the same platform, Toyota is aiming to corner a 10 per cent share of the Indian market by 2015.

“With the possibility of the Indian market being about 3.5 million units, we want our share to be about 350,000 to 400,000 units by 2015,” Mr Okamoto said. And with Toyota’s global sales being about 9-10 million units by then, the Indian operations will constitute about three-four per cent of the total. If exports from out of India happen by then, the number could be higher.

Mr Okamoto also confirmed that at this moment the new small car being developed by Toyota for emerging markets such as India will be the cheapest-ever made by the Japanese company.

Though efforts will continue to reduce costs of future models, Toyota is unlikely to look at making an ultra low-cost passenger car on the lines of the Tata Nano or the proposed car by the Bajaj-Renault combine.

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