TOKYO — 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 +."
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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 models 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 models 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 — 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.