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Toyota Prius 3rd Highest-Selling Car

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Toyota Motor Corp.’s (TM - Analyst Report) popular hybrid vehicle Prius became the third best-selling car in the world during the first quarter of the year following its own brand Corolla and Ford Motor Co.’s (F - Analyst Report) Focus.

In the quarter, Toyota sold 247,230 units of Prius. This compared with 300,800 units of Corolla and 277,000 units of Focus.

Toyota occupied the top spot in hybrid offerings after introducing Prius in 1997. Since then, the automaker sold more than 3.5 million hybrid vehicles. It expects to launch as many as 10 more gasoline-electric models by 2015 and offer a fuel-sipping option across its entire line-up by 2020.

In May last year, Toyota introduced Prius Alpha hatchback wagon, which is derived from the third generation Prius model, as Prius V (5-seater) in Japan. The vehicle is priced at ¥2.35 million ($29,000) and is equipped with nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries like its predecessor.

In late-2011, Toyota also signed a memorandum of understanding with Ford on the equal product development collaboration in order to manufacture a gas-electric hybrid engine for pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs). It has also partnered with Tesla Motors Inc. (TSLA - Analyst Report) to collaborate on producing electric vehicles based on its small SUV RAV4.

Recently, Toyota raised its 2012 sales forecast for the U.S. due to improving consumer confidence, rising gasoline prices and strong pent-up demand on the back of aging vehicles on road (average age of a vehicle on U.S. roads is 10.8 years).

The Japanese automaker expects to boost sales by 15% to 1.89 million vehicles in the U.S. during the year. The company believes rising gasoline prices would raise the demand for its fuel-efficient lineups.

Toyota, a Zacks #1 Rank (Strong Buy) stock, posted a 30.5% decline in profits to ¥283.56 billion ($3.7 billion) or ¥90.20 ($1.17) per share in its fiscal year ended March 31, 2012 compared with ¥408.18 billion or ¥130.16 in the prior fiscal year. With this, the company has missed the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $2.52 per share for the year.

Consolidated revenues in the year dipped marginally by 2% to ¥18.58 trillion ($241.59 billion). Total unit sales increased 0.6% to 7.35 million units during the fiscal year. Higher unit sales in Japan (8%), Europe (0.3%) and Asia (6%) were significantly offset by lower sales in North America (8%) and Other reporting regions (2%).

The decrease in revenues and profits was attributable to challenges faced by the company owing to the earthquake in Japan and severe flooding in Thailand in 2011 as well as unprecedented strength of the yen.

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