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Toyota to sell 2 Prius versions

TOYOTA will continue to sell the current Prius when the revamped version goes on sale in May in an unusual move likely to help the top-selling hybrid ride out a threat from rival Honda.

Toyota Motor Corp President Katsuaki Watanabe said yesterday there is demand in the Japanese market for both the third-generation Prius and the smaller model that's already on sale.

He declined to give details, including overseas plans. But his comment is the first from Toyota confirming recent Japanese media reports that the current Prius gas-electric hybrid will continue to be on sale, partly to match the cheap price of Honda Motor Co's new Insight hybrid.

Prius faces an unprecedented challenge from the Insight, which starts at 1.89 million yen (US$19,000) in Japan, and US$19,800 in the United States. The Prius now sells for US$22,000 in the US and 2.3 million yen (US$23,000) in Japan.

Watanabe said Toyota has been slashing costs on hybrids to almost a fourth of the early costs. He declined to give details on pricing, adding Toyota will give an explanation when the new model is unveiled, expected in May.

"Honda has made an excellent car that addresses ecological problems," Watanabe said of the Insight at a Tokyo showroom. "It will stimulate the development of hybrid technology, including cost-cutting. And that is also our goal."

The Insight has been a hit since going on sale in February in Japan. It is expected in overseas showrooms in coming weeks. The Prius is the global best-seller in hybrids at a cumulative 1.2 million sold around the world since its 1997 debut.

Watanabe also expressed hopes General Motors Corp will avert bankruptcy, as that would hurt the overall auto industry as well as parts makers, which Toyota shares with the Detroit auto maker.

GM received a US$13.4-billion bailout loan from the US government, but is asking for more money to avoid collapse.


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