TOKYO (AP) — Some buyers will have to wait until April 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 magnitude-9.0 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 mid-2012 called "Prius +."
The one with three rows of seats, which starts at 3 million yen ($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 2.35 million yen ($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 Prius with the lithium-ion batteries could be produced a month. Toyota is planning to produce 2,000 of the other model a month, and is trying to increase production, he said.
Toyota is aiming to sell 2,000 of the new Prius a month in North America, and 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 nickel-metal hydride batteries, and 7,000 for the one with lithium-ion batteries.
Buyers have had long waits for previous Prius models. But the wait this time for some could be especially long, lasting until April next year, according to Toyota.
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.
Consumers have been holding back on spending. Festivals and concerts were canceled. And usually bustling streets went dark and still for weeks after March 11 disasters, as the nation went into mourning.
Fears are now growing about another crisis over a nuclear power plant hobbled by the tsunami, which has been spewing radioactive air and water into the environment. Another nuclear plant, supplying power to the region where Toyota headquarters is located, is being shut down because of safety concerns.
Company officials were upbeat, promising more products and utmost efforts to restore production.
The latest Prius offers 31 kilometers (19.26 miles) to the liter (73 mpg), about double the mileage of comparable gas-engine vehicles, according to Toyota.
Overseas mileage will differ because of different driving conditions and regulations.
Hybrids, which are part electric vehicles that recharge on-the-go, deliver better mileage than regular cars, tend to do so more for slower driving, common in congested Japan, than on highways, such as those in the U.S.
The popular third-generation Prius, already on sale, promises from 35.5 kilometers per liter to 38 kilometers per liter in Japan, and from 48 mpg to 51 mpg in the U.S.
"Hybrids are becoming a major force behind the push toward a low-emission society," said Toyota executive Moritaka Yoshida.