Toyota Motor Corp.’s smallest hybrid car – the Aqua compact hybrid -- has gone on sale in Japan. It’s expected to be a strong contender against Honda Motor Co. in its bid to attract younger consumers who are in the market for an entry-level fuel-efficient vehicle. The Aqua has a price tag of 1.69 million yen or about $21,700.
It will be offered in the U.S. as the Prius C. Toyota has set a monthly sales target of 12,000 Aquas in its domestic market. Toyota aims to increase its global vehicle sales by 20% next year and to accomplish this, it is relying on gasoline-electric models that include its expanded Prius lineup.
In the first six half of 2011 in Japan, Honda's Fit compact car (available in hybrid and conventional gasoline-engine versions) had higher sales than the bigger Prius. This implies that there’s a growing demand for cars that are smaller and are more fuel-efficient.
Mamoru Kato, an auto analyst at Tokai Tokyo Research Center in Nagoya, Japan, said that the launch of the Aqua demonstrates Toyota’s efforts to raise sales in its home market. He added that the Prius’ price was raised to become more profitable so that the Aqua is able to meet the demand for hybrids that are smaller and more affordable.
Chief engineer Satoshi Ogiso said that the Aqua’s length is 3.9 meters (12.8 feet) while the Prius measures 4.48 meters. However, its legroom is the same as that of a Corolla compact. Toyota's Web site shows that the Aqua’s price - 1.69 million yen ($21,700)- is 22% lower than the Prius, which has a starting price of 2.17 million yen.
The Aqua actually does better than the Prius in terms of fuel efficiency. It returns 35.4 km/liter (83.3 mpg) while the current top Prius offers 32 km/liter. The Japan disaster on March 11 had disrupted Prius output. This resulted to a 51% drop in its domestic sales in the first half of the year to 83,319 vehicles. The Fit from Honda took the No. 1 spot in this market segment after having sold 88,282 units, standing for a 2% drop compared to the previous year.