Toyota Rolls Out New Prius to Fend Off Rivals

New model costs 12% less, has solar panels in the roof and has electric-powered water pump

Toyota Motor on May 18 rolled out a cheaper, revamped Prius, seeking to boost its flagging sales and maintain its lead in fuel-sipping hybrids in the face of growing competition from rival Honda. Toyota hopes to sell 10,000 of the third-generation Prius cars a month in Japan, where it has a price tag starting from 2.05 million yen (US$21,580), about 12% less than the current cheapest model.

The new price tag narrows the gap with Honda's Insight hybrid, which retails for 1.89 million yen.

Toyota has sold more than 1.25 million Prius vehicles since its launch in 1997, making it the world's most popular hybrid, but rivals such as Honda are seeking to challenge its lead.

Toyota will also sell a new version of the second-generation Prius with a price on a par with the Insight, which was the top-selling vehicle in Japan in April. It aims to sell 300,000-400,000 Prius cars in total this year worldwide.

Toyota has received pre-launch orders for more than 80,000 third-generation Prius cars, which the company says has a world-beating fuel efficiency of 38.0 kilometers per liter, or 50 miles per gallon. Its predecessor had 46 mpg.

The revamped Prius -- which was unveiled at a Tokyo ceremony by incoming president Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder -- has solar panels in the roof to power the ventilation system. It has a 1.8-liter petrol engine and Toyota's first electric-powered water pump.

Toyota, which lost 436.9 billion yen in the year to March, has much riding on the success of the new model.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2009

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