By Nat Shirley
Monday, Apr 30th, 2012 @ 11:40 am
 
Toyota is looking to produce the Prius in the United States by 2015 in order to trim costs and meet what the company anticipates will be increasingly strong demand in North America.

"We are targeting 2015. Around then we will probably introduce the next-generation Prius, so we are trying our hardest to realize local production of hybrid units then," said Koei Saga, Toyota's senior managing officer in charge of drivetrain R&D, in an interview with Automotive News.

Building the next Prius in the United States would allow Toyota to sidestep the strong yen, which has chipped away at the profitability of the current made-in-Japan model.

Toyota might also need the increased production capacity to simply keep up with demand for the Prius: the automaker is forecasting annual Prius sales of 200,000 in North America within three years, which would represent an significant increase from the 136,463 Prii sold in 2011.

The biggest challenge will be finding local suppliers able to provide drivetrain components in the kind of numbers Toyota will need, Saga said. The Georgetown, Kentucky-built Camry Hybrid is produced using imported hybrid parts, but that strategy might be too costly for the higher-volume Prius.

Saga did not state whether the Prius would be build alongside the Camry Hybrid in Kentucky, at Toyota's Mississippi factory or at a new facility.