NEW TOYOTA HYBRID: Toyota's current-generation Prius was launched in 2009 and received a facelift in 2011 (above). The automaker says the fourth-generation could arrive locally in 2016. Image: QuickPic
YORK TOWNSHIP, Michigan - The timing isn't perfect but Toyota says it's close to rolling-out its fourth-generation of its Prius petrol-electric hybrid car.
Low fuel prices have hurt sales of hybrids, with Prius sales falling 14% in the first five months of 2015.
Toyota says it plans to launch its new Prius in South Africa in 2016.
Toyota North American CEO, Jim Lentz, said that the new Prius will have improved fuel consumption than outgoing model and "is better looking". He cautioned that reports of a 15% improvement in fuel economy are probably too high.
He also said the new version has a lower centre of gravity and handles better on the road.
Lentz said Toyota, market leader in hybrid sales, will continue to develop new hybrids even though sales of alternative-fuel cars as a segment are down about 15% for the year.
Lentz said: "With lower fuel prices, it's having an impact on the entire segment. But long term, it's still the player. We've seen these rises and falls in fuel prices in the past. "
Lentz wouldn't say exactly when the fourth-generation car will debut. The Prius was last redesigned six years ago in 2009.
Lentz made his remarks on Thursday (June 11) at a groundbreaking ceremony for a R1.5-billion expansion of its technical center on two campuses near Ann Arbor, Michigan. The moves will bring about 335 jobs to the area from other Toyota locations.