DETROIT — Toyota's Prius brand is so strong that it could someday support a lineup of hybrid vehicles under the popular green vehicle's flagship name, a top company executive said Sunday.
Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the company has been successful in marketing the Scion and Lexus vehicles as a brand and could apply those lessons to Prius.
"I think Prius has that much strength as a brand. So the marketing side of me says based on that, someday it would be advantageous for us to have derivatives, different body types under the Prius name," Lentz said in an interview on the sidelines of the North American International Auto Show. "Are there plans for that today? I can't tell you that. But the marketing person says that's a great direction for us to go."
Prius has been the top-seller in the U.S. hybrid market, which currently represents more than 2 percent of domestic vehicle sales. Toyota Motor Corp. dominated the hybrid market with its Toyota and Lexus offerings and sold more than 181,000 Prius hybrids in 2007, an increase of about 68 percent over the previous year.
The latest iteration of the Prius was introduced in 2004, and company officials have been mum on when a new Prius will be released to the public.
Toyota officials said the company is encouraged that other automakers are entering the hybrid market. General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and others plan to offer new hybrid models this year.
Bob Carter, Toyota's general manager for U.S. sales, said the new entries "further helps to expand the technology into the mainstream."
Carter said talk of a future Prius brand is "under discussion but we've made no final determination or announcement."
Lentz said production levels for the Prius in the U.S. are expected to be about 175,000 vehicles, which will not allow the vehicle to replicate last year's prolific growth in 2008.
Toyota scrambled to produce enough of the vehicles in 2007 and many dealers had only a week's supply during the busy summer selling period.
"We ended the year with about a 15-day supply. So unless there's incremental production that could be found, the numbers are going to be very, very close to this year's numbers, and that's not necessarily demand driven, it's supply driven," Lentz said.
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