Thu, Mar 16, 2006 - Page 12 News List

Hotai launches its first hybrid

GOING GREEN The local distributor of Toyota vehicles hopes to attract high-tech executives and environmentally-minded consumers with the hybrid-engine Prius

By Jason Tan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Visitors look at a Toyota Prius hybrid model on display at the East Asia Business Exhibition 2005 on the sidelines of the ASEAN summit in Kuala Lumpur on Dec. 11 last year. China is currently the only site outside of Japan where the Prius is assembled. Producing the cars in Taiwan would be difficult, as sales volume is too small, Hotai Motor Co, the Prius' local distributor, said at the launch in Taipei yesterday.

PHOTO: AFP

Hotai Motor Co (和泰汽車) yesterday announced the availability of its first hybrid car in the local market, the Toyota Prius. The company said it hopes the Prius will duplicate the success it enjoyed in the European and US markets.

"The concept of hybrid-engine cars is new to local drivers. We believe the Prius will first get the attention of high-tech executives, before more environment-friendly consumers jump on the bandwagon," Justin Su (蘇純興), vice president of Hotai Motor's vehicles operations group, said at a product launch yesterday.

Hotai is the nation's biggest automaker and the local distributor of Toyota vehicles.

Japan's Toyota Motor Corp took the lead in the industry by debuting its first-generation Prius in its home country in 1997. It sold 323 units in the first year.

Toyota introduced the model, which saves fuel by switching between an electric motor and a gasoline engine, in North America and Europe in 2000, and had sold around 550,000 units globally by the end of last year, Hotai said.

The US is the world's largest market for hybrid vehicles, with sales of around 200,000 units by the end of last year. The figure is set to mushroom to 500,000 units a year by 2010, according to research firm Global Insight.

Toyota, with models including the Prius and the Highlander sports utility vehicle (SUV), was the leader in the US, with a 71 percent market share, Su said.

"Due to the overwhelming response, Toyota has to assign certain quotas for the Prius in different countries, and some of the American buyers have to wait up to six months for delivery," he added.

In the local market, 400 units have been allocated for this year, and 1,200 units per year for the next two years, he said.

The new 1.5-liter Prius comes with a price tag of NT$1.18 million (US$36,500).

Hotai might also bring in a second hybrid model under the Lexus brand in the second half of the year, Su said yesterday.

Compared with regular gasoline-powered cars, hybrids are said to consume 50 percent less fuel, reduce pollution by 80 percent and offer 150 percent better performance, Hotai said.

China is currently the only site outside of Japan where the Prius is assembled. Toyota started producing the cars in China in December.

Su described the policy to produce the vehicles in China as a "strategic decision."

"It would be quite difficult for us to do the same here, as the volumes are just too small," he said.

Booming sales in emerging markets like China and India have provided huge growth potential to major auto companies, as traditional markets are approaching saturation, Standard & Poor's said in a report released yesterday.

With an average sales growth of 10 percent to 15 percent per year over the medium term, more than 100 auto manufacturers are currently competing head-to-head in China, the report said.

Smaller rival Ford Lio Ho Motor Co (福特六和) in December introduced the first hybrid car to the Taiwanese market, the Escape hybrid SUV. Powered by a 2.3-liter engine, it retails at NT$1.88 million.

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