TOKYO - Some buyers will have to wait until April of next year for deliveries of the latest Toyota Prius because of shortages of a new battery that's adding to production delays from the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
The launch Friday of the more spacious "Prius a," or "Prius alpha," a revamp of Toyota's popular gasoline-electric hybrid, had been initially set for April. But the March 11 earthquake in northeastern Japan destroyed key parts suppliers and forced a delay.
The parts shortage has disrupted production at Toyota's Japanese plants, and the automaker has said production won't be completely back to pre-disaster levels until late this year. The battery shortage was an issue even before the earthquake.
The new Prius model, which looks like a station wagon or a tiny minivan, comes in two versions - one seating five people, set to go on sale in North America later this year as the Prius V, and one with three rows seating seven people, being offered in Europe in mid 2012 and called Prius '.
The one with three rows of seats, which starts at $37,000 in Japan, is equipped with a new kind of battery, called lithium-ion, for the first time in a Toyota hybrid.
The one seating five people, which starts at $29,000, and earlier Prius models have nickel-metal hydride batteries. The lithium-ion battery takes up less space, allowing for more cabin room.
Toyota executive Satoru Mouri said only 1,000 of the Priuses with the lithium-ion batteries can be produced a month. Toyota is planning to produce 2,000 of the other model per month and is trying to increase production, he said.
Toyota aims to sell 2,000 of the new Prius models a month in North America, plus another 2,000 a month in Europe. In Japan, Toyota has already received 25,000 orders for the new Prius models - 18,000 for the model with the nickel-metal hydride battery and 7,000 for the one with the lithium-ion battery.
Buyers have had long waits for previous Prius models. But the wait this time for some could be especially long, lasting until April of next year, Toyota said.
Still, Toyota's launch Friday in the garden of a Tokyo hotel was a bit of bright news that has been rare in Japan these days.
Company officials were upbeat, promising the utmost effort to restore production.
The latest Prius offers 73 mpg, about double the mileage of comparable gas-engine vehicles, according to Toyota. The popular third-generation Prius, already on sale, promises 48 mpg to 51 mpg in the United States.