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Toyota rolls out the revamped Prius to take on Honda Insight

TOYOTA rolled out the revamped Prius yesterday, and said it already had 80,000 advance orders in Japan for the remodeled hybrid amid intensifying competition with Honda's rival offering, the Insight.

The world's largest auto maker said it aims to sell up to 400,000 cars globally a year.

"We are resting the future of cars in this model," said incoming President Akio Toyoda, the grandson of the company's founder, who drove the new model onto a stage at a packed Tokyo showroom.

Both Toyoda's presence and the new Prius are symbolic of Toyota Motor Corp's pursuit of a turnaround from its worst annual loss since its 1937 founding.

The Prius, now in its third generation since its 1997 introduction, is the best-selling gas-electric hybrid in the world, racking up a cumulative 1.256 million units sold in more than 40 nations and regions. The new Prius will be sold in 80 nations and regions, Toyoda said.

But now Toyota faces a challenge from Honda Motor Co, whose cheaper Insight has sold briskly since it was introduced in Japan in February. In April, the Insight ranked as the top-selling vehicle in Japan - the first time a hybrid clinched that spot.

Toyota said its Japan prices for the Prius would start at 2.05 million yen (US$21,600), less than its predecessor model's base price.

But in an unusual move aimed at competing against the Insight, Toyota also said it will continue to sell the current Prius in Japan - mainly to corporate and rental customers - and cut its price to 1.89 million yen, the same price as the Insight.

Christopher J. Richter, senior analyst with Calyon Capital Markets Asia in Tokyo, said Toyota may be making a mistake by competing with Insight's price because the Prius is a much bigger car than the Insight compact and gets better mileage. "Given that the two vehicles are different animals, I think that probably isn't the way to go," he said. "It probably damages the Prius brand image by trying to chase after what is an inferior car in price."


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