Global auto major Toyota Motor Corp plans to introduce its hybrid sedan Prius in India as an answer to soaring fuel prices and growing concerns over emissions, a top official at its Indian joint venture said.
"We are preparing to bring Prius into the Indian market though we have not set any timeline yet," Toyota Kirloskar Motor Ltd vice-chairman Vikram Kirloskar told IANS in an interview.
"In the run-up, we have to develop skills to service it and make spare parts available across the country," he added.
The 2008 version of Prius has been adjudged the most fuel-efficient midsize car in the US. Sold in over 40 countries across regions, the hybrid variant has also been rated as the third least carbon dioxide emitting vehicle in Britain.
Kirloskar described Prius as a "great car" but admitted it was "expensive upfront".
"In the long-run, it is economical, with higher mileage and lower maintenance cost. We are confident of its acceptability in the Indian market as it runs both on electricity and fuel."
Positioned between Toyota's Corolla and Camry in the luxury segment, Prius uses an all-electric compressor for cooling. Classified as a super ultra low emission vehicle, the eco-friendly car can be propelled by either petrol and electric power.
"We are aware that Honda is launching its hybrid variant in the Indian market soon despite high import tariff. We can also do it with due preparation. As I said earlier, we have to gear up to service such a premium car by training our personnel and stocking enough spare parts with the dealer network," Kirloskar said.
As the first commercially mass-produced gas-electric hybrid, one million Prius vehicles were sold by April worldwide, including 592,000 units in the US and 315,000 units in Japan.
In India, Toyota Kirloskar already markets Corolla and Camry in the premium segment, besides Innova in the multi-utility and Prado in the sports utility segments.
Corolla and Innova are manufactured at its Bidadi plant, about 40km from India's technology hub of Bangalore, while Camry and Prado are shipped from Toyota's production facilities in Japan in completely knocked down form and assembled here.
"Though we entered the Indian market over a decade ago, we chose to be in niche and premium segments. As a marketing strategy, we first introduced Qualis, which was a run-away success in the multi-utility segment," Kirloskar said.
"We launched Innova by discontinuing Qualis and yet maintained market leadership in the segment. In the second-hand or used car market, Toyota brands commands highest price even today because of their value and durability," he said.
Denying that Toyota "missed the bus" or lost market space to global rivals such as Honda, Hyundai, Suzuki, Ford and General Motors by not being present across segments in India, especially in the dominant compact segment, Kirloskar said there was enough room to grow in a developing country where the automobile industry was maturing.
In the passenger car segment, the combined installed capacity of Indian automobile sector is about two million as against Toyota's annual worldwide capacity of 10 million units.
"With the Indian economy poised to grow over eight-nine percent, we see immense potential to grow, thanks to increasing purchasing power, higher aspirations among the generation next, better road connectivity and migrant-driven urbanization," Kirloskar said.
Toyota Kirloskar is setting up a second plant with an upfront investment of Rs.14 billion ($329 million) at Bidadi to manufacture a range of models, including its long-awaited compact car to take on dominant players like Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata Motors.
With an installed capacity of 100,000 units per annum, the new modular multi-platform plant is set to commence production in 2010.
The small car will be different from Toyota's existing models in the same segment, as it is being designed exclusively for the Indian market, Kirloskar said.