It may have a Japanese badge, but the world’s most popular hybrid might soon be made in the good ole’ U.S. of A. Toyota is planning on making Priuses, specifically ones it wants to sell here, at an American plant. The company hopes this move will trim costs and increase availability of the hybrid hatchback.
Koei Saga, Toyota’s senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain R&D, told Automotive News that Toyota is looking to start Prius production in the U.S. beginning in 2015. This will coincide with the launch of a new, fourth-generation model.
Building the Prius in the U.S. has a couple of advantages for Toyota. First, it will negate the effect of the strong yen; the unfavorable exchange rate makes cars that are built in Japan and sold in America less profitable. Toyota shifted most of its Camry production to the U.S. for the same reason.
A second advantage is volume; building Priuses in the market where they are sold could help meet what Toyota expects to be ravenous demand. By 2015, Toyota says it will be selling 200,000 Priuses a year. Toyota did not say whether Prius “family members,” like the Prius C and Prius V, were included in this estimate. In 2011, the last full year of recorded sales, 136,463 of the hybrids were sold in North America.
According to Saga, the biggest challenge will be finding suppliers for the Prius’ drivetrain. Toyota’s “Hybrid Synergy Drive” system uses several bespoke components, and Toyota will need them in large numbers. American workers are already familiar with Toyota hybrids: the company builds the Camry hybrid in Georgetown, Kentucky, but that car’s parts are imported from Japan. Saga says that might be too costly, given the amount of Priuses Toyota expects to sell in North America.
If the Prius is not built alongside the Camry hybrid in Georgetown, it could go to Toyota’s new plant in Mississippi. The hybrid monger has four other U.S. plants, and opening a new facility dedicated to Prius production is reportedly a possibility.
In 2015, the Prius will join a trio of green cars built by large companies in U.S. plants. For the foreseeable future, the Chevy Volt will be built at General Motors’ Hamtramck, Michigan factory. Meanwhile, Nissan will shift production of the Leaf to its New Smyrna, Tennessee plant.
Toyota is turning into an American car company with a Japanese name. Many of its models, including the Camry sedan and Tundra pickup, are designed specifically for the American market, and built here. Talk about globalization; soon the only Japanese piece of the average Toyota might be t-shaped badge.