Citing the effects of a dismal and unpredictable U.S. auto market, Toyota has announced that it will delay indefinitely plans to build the next-generation Prius Hybrid model in the U.S. It was barely five months ago that the Japanese automaker said a new facility, currently being constructed in Blue Springs, Mississippi, would be repurposed from its original mission, assembling the firm's mid-size Highlander SUV, to turning out the 2010 Prius for North American buyers.
There's an ironic twist to this rethink. While demand for SUVs remains bleak, the past month has seen sales of hybrid vehicles fall even more sharply than the auto market in general. Whether their collective 50-percent decline in November directly reflects the equally precipitous drop in gasoline prices or if the whims of buyers that have been purchasing these premium-priced mileage makers more out of want than need remains to be seen. But the bottom line is that Prius volume tumbled by over 48 percent last month (although at 8,660 units, it remains the country's best-selling hybrid). Until that situation resolves itself in some positive manner, the only hybrid vehicle Toyota will be building in the U.S. is the Camry, which is manufactured at a plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, alongside its gasoline kin.
Toyota has confirmed that the basic build-out on the Blue Springs facility will be completed as scheduled and that it is destined to be the future home of any North American Prius models. However, dedicated tooling won't be installed until some later date when it prepares to go into active mode. Exactly when that may be remains open to conjecture, as it was tersely presented in a corporate status statement that noted: "Due to the uncertainty of the market, it is impossible to say at this time when production will begin."