Green car market heats up in Japan

The latest version of Toyota Motor Corp.'s Prius hybrid vehicle has received a warm welcome from consumers in Japan, while Mitsubishi Motors Corp. has responded by slashing the price of its i-MiEV vehicle to make it the first electric car available to the general public for less than Y2 million (€17,406).

Toyota has announced that it received 52,000 orders for its new Prius Alpha in the month after it first went on sale, far outstripping the 3,000 units it set as a sales target before the launch.

The majority of the orders were for the five-seat wagon version of the vehicle, while 14,000 people opted for the seven-seat minivan.

The figures will be welcomed by Toyota, which has had serious problems procuring components for its vehicles in the wake of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, which damaged many of its suppliers' production facilities, and saw sales of the previous Prius version tumble 76.1 percent in May.

The new seven-seater has a price tag of around Y3 million (€26,165) and the automaker aims to make it available in the United States as soon as this summer and in Europe in the early part of 2012.

The launch of the new Prius may well have been a contributing factor behind Mitsubishi Motors' decision to cut Y1 million (€8,740) off the sticker price of its i-MiEV electric vehicle, which was already competing with Nissan Motor Co.'s Leaf.

The cheaper version will have a smaller battery, reducing the distance that it can travel without needing to be recharged. At present, the lithium ion batteries in the i-MiEV give it a range of 160 km, which will be pared down to 120 km.

The announcements come on top of more good news for Japan's all-important auto industry, with manufacturers moving to step up production in the second half of the fiscal year as they overcome the problems caused by the natural disasters of March.

Toyota and Nissan have announced that they are nearly back to the same producion levels as before the earthquake and Honda Motor Co. is expected to be in a similar position before the end of June, fully two months faster than it initially anticipated.

Demand will be particularly strong in areas of northern Japan worst affected by the tsunami, where tens of thousands of cars were crushed by the waves.



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