By CLARE MELLOR
Since the third generation Toyota Prius was launched eight weeks ago, 70 drivers in Atlantic Canada have purchased the new hybrid vehicles.
Those sales numbers are considered strong given the size of the market, but Stephen Beatty, managing director of Toyota Canada Inc., predicts that hybrids will be soon be as ubiquitous here as they are in larger Canadian centres.
“If it is not today, or next week, it is going to be in the next several years that you see these vehicles become commonplace on the roads here in Atlantic Canada, simply because traditional forms of vehicles are going to have to go away,” he said Friday during a visit to Halifax. The cost of a new Toyota Prius starts at $27,500, according to a Halifax Toyota dealership.
By the middle of the next decade, radical changes to fuel economy standards in North America – largely championed by the Obama administration – will make hybrids and other alternative vehicles, mainstream, said Mr. Beatty.
Hybrids are likely to be the first choice of consumers over electric vehicles because of their flexibility and ability to go long distances, he said.
Consumers outside larger centres have, so far, been slower to switch from traditional automobiles to hybrids.
“I think we are moving from the early-adopter stage to the early-majority in places like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal,” he said.
“But as you go further out across the country, obviously we are still in that stage of people trying to explore and understand the technology and say well what does it mean for me?”
Mr. Beatty, who is based at Toyota Canada’s head office in Toronto, was in Halifax on Friday as part of a cross-country tour talking about new Toyota products, such as the Prius.
“For us, this Prius line is the critical one. I think this is the time when we finally see the line move to (the) mainstream.”
Toyota has both sales and manufacturing divisions in Canada. The company employs 5,700 at its manufacturing plants in Cambridge and Woodstock, Ont., and 230 people at its aluminum manufacturing facility in British Columbia.
The company employs 900 at its head office and has about 270 Toyota and Lexus dealerships across the country.
There are 26 Toyota dealerships in the Atlantic region employing 400 people.
Like other auto makers, Toyota is having its share of problems due to the downturn in the economy, and changing marketplace. So far this year, sales in Canada are down 20 per cent and down 25 per cent in the United States.
While it has scaled back production, the company has managed to avoid layoffs, Mr. Beatty said.
“It is the wrong thing to do in a tougher environment.”
The Woodstock plant, which produces the RAV4, just opened in November during the free fall in the economy.
“When we looked at the Woodstock plant, initially it was built with the intention of running two shifts there. We’ve started with just one because we didn’t want to over produce, but it is set up and ready to go as the market recovers.”
The Cambridge plant produces the Toyota Corolla and Toyota Matrix. It is the only plant outside Japan to produce the Lexus model LX 350.
“What we have then in Canada are our top selling small car, top selling Lexus and top selling SUV, all coming out of Canadian facilities. Plus the Matrix which is only built in Canada,” Mr. Beatty said.