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DETROIT: Toyota unveiled a new hybrid concept car that is smaller than the Prius and geared toward younger buyers, part of the company's hybrid and alternative-fuel lineup, which it is expanding over the next several years.
The Japanese automaker showed off the FT-CH compact at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday, and it confirmed it plans to expand the Prius brand from a single vehicle to a family of hybrids.
The FT-CH could be sold under the Prius name, Toyota said.
Toyota FT-CH compact hybrid concept car is shown at the North American International Auto Show Monday, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
The plan to broaden the Prius brand is a sign of its success and of buyers' loyalty to them.
The Prius, which launched in the U.S. in 2000, has long been America's top-selling hybrid and was the best-selling vehicle overall in Japan last year.
"The strategy is still taking shape and obviously it will require additional models to qualify as a family," said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, a division of Toyota Motor Corp.
Hybrids run on batteries and gasoline.
Priuses would be marketed together to save on advertising costs, but there could be up to three models.
It costs more than US$100 million to launch a model name and win awareness with buyers, he said.
Businessman Roger Penske, left, greets Chairman of Toyota Motors Sales Yoshi Inada at the North American International Auto Show Monday, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
"It's much more efficient to market 300,000 or 400,000 vehicles under one brand name than it is to spend the dollars to market two or three model names," he said.
Toyota said the two-door FT-CH, 22 inches (55 centimeters) shorter than the Prius, is lighter and more fuel efficient and its styling, inspired by 8-bit video games popular during the 1980s, is intended to appeal to younger buyers.
The FT-CH, as a concept vehicle, has no official sales or production schedule. Toyota said it plans to sell 1 million hybrids worldwide each year by launching eight new models over the next few years.
Toyota sold 530,000 hybrids worldwide in 2009.
It also plans to offer plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars starting in model-year 2012 and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in 2015.
Toyota has not decided whether the all-electric cars will be marketed as Priuses. Toyota recently launched a global demonstration program of its plug-in hybrid technology.
Starting early this year, Toyota is sending 150 plug-in Priuses with lithium-ion batteries - less bulky than the nickel-metal hydride batteries that currently power hybrids - to the U.S. for testing.
The automaker also said Monday it will send more than 100 hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles to universities, companies and government agencies in California and New York to publicize hydrogen fuel-cell technology.
Yoshi Inaba, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America, told reporters Monday he was optimistic about 2010 sales after a dismal 2009 for the automaker and the industry.
Inaba expects U.S. sales industrywide to rise to about 11.5 million this year after dropping to 10.4 million in 2009, and more growth is expected in 2011 and 2012.
He predicted that Toyota's market share in the U.S. - 17 percent last year - will be steady or rise. -