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Toyota studying larger Prius people-hauler

Fri, 20 May 2011

Toyota's Prius family could continue to grow, literally, as the automaker studies an additional version of the popular hybrid that carries three rows of seats.

The three-row Prius would not be the same vehicle as the Prius Alpha sold in Japan, which basically crams a third row of seats into the cargo area of the five-seat Prius V to be sold in the United States starting this fall.

To the contrary, this potential Prius would be large enough to hold seven people as well as their stuff, said Bob Carter, Toyota Division general manager.

While Carter said "there is nothing in the hopper" regarding the proposed vehicle, he said the concept is being seriously studied--which in Toyota-speak means it could likely happen.

The Japanese automaker wants to sell 1 million hybrid models a year.

In early 2012, Toyota will launch two more Prius family members--the Prius C compact hybrid vehicle and the Prius plug-in hybrid vehicle.

Toyota is taking two paths down the hybrid trail: the dedicated Prius platform, and optional hybrid variants of existing vehicles such as the Camry.

Carter said the three-row Prius would have to come from a dedicated hybrid platform, have the Prius' aerodynamic shape, get at least 40 mpg and have a strong value-price equation.

However, research and development costs for other hybrid vehicles are tugging at Toyota's purse strings. In the next 20 months, 10 new or redesigned hybrids will be introduced in Toyota's global portfolio.

Ben Mitchell, Toyota's corporate manager of product planning, confirmed that his team is studying multiple new hybrid segments.

In looking at the possibility of a seven-person Prius hybrid, Mitchell said that Toyota's already-stretched hybrid engineering team could also be used to create hybrid versions of the Sienna minivan or Venza crossover.

"It's a fight for resources right now," Mitchell said.

By Mark Rechtin- Automotive News