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Toyota Considers a Prius Product Family

WASHINGTON, D.C. ?? The Prius brand name is gaining so much cachet with consumers that Toyota is considering launching an entire family of Prius models in different body styles, according to Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America.

"When it was first launched, Prius benefited from the halo effect of the Toyota brand reputation," Press told Inside Line . "Now, the Toyota brand is benefiting from the halo effect of the Prius."

With that in mind, Toyota is contemplating ways to put that Prius halo to work. "We are looking at expanding the Prius line of products to include other body styles," Press said.

What models might join today's five-door hatchback remains to be determined.

"It is still in the conceptual stage," he said. When GM launched its import-fighter Corvair, it was originally an entire product family including vans, pickups and wagons, not just the sedan that gained fame as the object of trial lawyer/eventual presidential candidate Ralph Nader's ire, so the idea of a model-as-product-line has been done before.

Having the Prius brand attached might help sell hybrids in other body styles better than giving those cars their own names, considering the difficulties that other manufacturers have encountered selling hybrids that lack the unique appearance and reputation of the Prius. Whether Toyota's other hybrid models are running into similar difficulty isn't clear, but Press describes sales of various Toyota and Lexus hybrid models as going, "very well."

But having the virtual Green Party seal of approval in the form of the Prius label might make it easier to sell other styles of hybrids. This might be especially important as manufacturers run out of their allotment of tax credits for hybrids sold. When the Prius' federal tax credits were exhausted, the car's four-to-six-month waiting list evaporated, Press said.

The possible new Prius models could include plug-in hybrids eventually, but that technology is still too immature to even forecast a date when such cars would be available, he said.

"We are hearing the voice of the customer, and we want [plug-ins] as much as anyone else," Press said. "It is not a lack of desire; it is a lack of science. We don't want to come out with a technology prematurely that might not succeed."

What this means to you: If being recognized for your effort to save the earth is as important as your actual contribution, then you will be able to have the validation of the "Prius" label on the flanks of whatever model you might need. Line

Toyota Considers a Prius Product Family
Japanese Import Car, New & Used Car, 2007