New Prius goes on sale today in Japan, Toyota claims 80,000 pre-orders

The new Prius will start at 2.05 million yen ($21,620), or at least 300,000 yen less than what executives had originally said the car would cost.

The about-face came after Honda's Insight became an instant hit after going on sale in Japan in early February. Honda sold nearly 10,500 Insights in April, more than double its target of 5,000 units a month.

Toyota had originally planned to raise the price on the latest Prius because it packed more advanced features, a bigger, 1.8-liter engine and better mileage of 50 miles per gallon, or 38 km/liter

With an eye on competing with the Insight, Toyota will also take the unprecedented move of continuing to sell the entry-level grade of the previous Prius in Japan at the same price as the Insight's 1.89 million yen, with a monthly target of 3,000 units.

Honda's boss was critical of the move. "You can't just suddenly change your pricing policy -- that's going to destroy the market," Chief Executive Takeo Fukui told Reuters last week.

"We're not paying any attention to (the Prius). They're not going to last long with that strategy," he added, speculating that the Prius would eat into sales of other Toyota cars and hurt its dealers.

JPMorgan's Nakanishi agreed that striking a healthy balance with sales of non-hybrid cars will be crucial going forward.

"As hybrids become more attractive and cost-competitive, we need to worry about how the other cars are going to hold their own. Hybrids still have lower margins (than gasoline cars,) so there's going to be some pressure on profitability. All that has to be taken into account while they sell their hybrids," he said.

Toyota's shares ended down 0.8 percent at 3,560 yen on Monday, outperforming the benchmark Nikkei average's 2.4 percent decline. Shares in Toyota, which is forecasting a $8.6 billion loss for the current financial year, have rallied about 23 percent so far this year, lagging Honda's 41 percent rise.

Saab Elektrisk

Every automaker has specific styling cues that it uses to make its designs instantly recognizable. It would seem this is especially true of a car's front fascia, and it's often fun to graft the grille and headlights from one automaker onto a vehicle design from another. For instance, take a look at the Chevy Volt and Opel Ampera, two vehicles that share similar bodywork with the notable exception of the front clip.

We already know that General Motors would like to expand its Voltec powertrain into other brands in its portfolio, notably Cadillac. Moving the Voltec upmarket a few notches would allow GM to recuperate the development costs of the high-tech powertrain package much faster. Could that also include Saab? A Photoshop expert named Theophilus Chin has created a few renderings of what a Saab Volt might look like, and we think it's pretty interesting.

Although a Voltec-powered Saab would also help move the technology into a higher price bracket, it seems unlikely that the automaker would extend its flagship powertrain technology to a brand that it's actively shopping, but it's fun to speculate on these things anyway.

Undisguised 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost at the Calais

A sharp-eyed observer managed to catch this virtually undisguised 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost at the Calais - Dover ferry crossing in England.

Looking nearly identical to 200EX Concept, this production ready prototype shows us what to expect when the Ghost is officially unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September. Differences between the concept and production version seem to include colored turn signal indicators, a revised front bumper with a center support, and a slightly modified steering wheel.

Although it is based on the recently introduced BMW 760Li, the new Rolls-Royce Ghost is a tad larger as it measures a massive 5399mm (212.6 inches) in length, 3295mm (129.7 inches) in wheelbase, 1948mm (76.7 inches) in width, and 1550mm (61 inches) in height. Power will come from a 6.6-liter twin-turbo V12 engine that produces 400 kW (544 hp) and 750 Nm (553 lb-ft) of torque.

Look for 2010 Rolls-Royce Ghost to start arriving in dealerships early next year with a base price somewhere in the neighborhood of £180,000 (US$257,000).

Toyota Planed to build hybrid Camry in Australia 2010

Toyota has confirmed it will build a hybrid version of its Camry sedan in Australia from 2010.

The announcement has created a green race between two of Australia's three local vehicle producers - Holden and Toyota - to see which will be the first to bring a frugal hybrid car to dealerships.

"We are delighted to have secured production of Australia's first local hybrid. It represents an exciting new chapter in the Toyota Australia story," says Toyota Australia CEO and president Masahide Yasuda. "From 2010 we plan to produce 10,000 Camrys at the Altona plant [in Melbourne]."

A senior General Motors executive also recently said Holden would begin selling a hybrid version of its Commodore by 2010.

Victorian premier John Brumby described the Toyota hybrid announcement as "a very historic day".

"This is a green letter day," says Brumby. "It marks the start of an exciting new era in our automotive industry."

The Toyota Camry hybrid is expected to use between six and seven litres of fuel per 100 kilometres travelled, 30 to 40 per cent less fuel than a regular four-cylinder petrol automatic Camry _ and about the same as a small car.

Carbon dioxide emissions for the hybrid Camry should fall from about 230 grams per kilometre to 140g/km.

The hybrid Camry should save its owner roughly $1000 a year in fuel bills, compared with the normal petrol Camry (based on 15,000km a year usage).

The company will also begin building the Focus small car _ including a diesel variant that uses just 5.6L/100km _ in Australia from 2011.

The move to produce hybrid and diesel vehicles is seen as a stepping stone to emission-free motoring promised by hydrogen fuel cells.

Hybrid War in Car Market

There is a war brewing between the top two Korean automakers and the leading Japanese car companies as they prepare to unleash new hybrid models into the local market in the second half of the year.

Hyundai Motor is unleashing a hybrid vehicle that runs on liquid petroleum gas in July while Kia Motors’ hybrid will be on the market two months later.

Toyota, manufacturer of the Prius, the world’s first hybrid vehicle, is hoping to release its latest Prius model in Korea in October at a price of 2 million yen (26.4 million won, $21,000).

Honda is planning to introduce its hybrid car, the New Insight, later this year. The vehicle has been selling in Japan since February and currently retails for 1.8 million yen. Like the Toyota Prius, the Insight’s fuel efficiency rating is outstanding. It gets 23 to 24 kilometers per liter, which is double the fuel efficiency of most midsize vehicles.

Ventross GT­-R R35 Skyline

Vorsteiner will offer its Ventross Nissan GT-R from the 1st of June 2009. While this may be so, the tuned car will not be mass-produced so to speak. The components will be made to order for GT-R customers who want them. Ventross hopes this approach will ensure optimal fitment and the highest quality for each piece installed.

Wimmer Racing Technology has unveiled a new €29,800 performance package for the highly regarded Porsche 911 GT2.

The German-based tuner modifies the twin-turbo 3.6-liter boxer engine by adding new engine management software, redesigned cylinder heads, high performance camshafts, and a custom exhaust. Thanks to all these enhancements, the Wimmer 911 GT2 boasts 680 hp and 870 Nm of torque. As you can imagine the car features stellar performance figures including a 0-100 km/h time of 3.4 seconds, a 0-300 km/h (0-186 mph) time of 25.8 seconds, and a top speed of 356 km/h (221 mph).

Wimmer's 911 GT2 also features a modest body kit which includes a carbon fiber rear lip spoiler, carbon fiber mirror housings, 20-inch Sportec wheels, and a lowered suspension.

Honda starts making Civic GX in Indiana

Honda Manufacturing of Indiana, LLC (HMIN) began production of the natural gas-powered 2009 Civic GX at its plant in Greensburg, Indiana. The Civic GX was formerly produced at Honda’s East Liberty, Ohio plant and has ten years of proven performance as a natural gas powered vehicle. The Civic GX is the only natural gas vehicle built by a major automaker in the US.

First introduced in 1998, the Civic GX is the cleanest internal combustion vehicle certified by the EPA—90% cleaner than the average gasoline-powered car on the road today. As a result, the GX is certified by the EPA as an Inherently Low Emissions Vehicle (ILEV). It is the only natural gas powered passenger car available for sale in all 50 states, and is eligible for a $4,000 federal tax credit as a qualified alternative fuel vehicle.

It is powered by a 113-hp (84 kW), 1.8-liter, 16-valve, SOHC i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine built at Honda’s engine plant in Anna, Ohio, and it is designed with a higher compression ratio—12.5:1—to maximize performance from natural gas fuel. The engine develops 109 lb-ft (148 N·m) of torque at 4,300 rpm, and is coupled with a five speed automatic transmission. It has an average range of more than 220 miles, and has fuel economy of 24 mpg (city) and 36 mpg (highway).

Honda Manufacturing of Indiana began Civic GX production just seven months after starting mass production of the 4-cylinder Honda Civic sedan at its new plant in Greensburg, Indiana. The $550 million plant currently employs approximately 1,000 associates and is designed as a zero waste-to-landfill facility.

Assembling the Civic GX brings flexibility and new capabilities at the plant. HMIN is a comprehensive production facility that includes metal stamping, plastic injection molding, subassembly, and final assembly. Producing the GX on the same assembly line with other vehicles required the addition of unique production processes, including fuel tank sub-assembly and installation, and a fueling center for compressed natural gas.

The Honda Civic sedan being built in Indiana features the fuel-efficient 140-hp, 1.8-liter, 16-valve SOHC i-VTEC 4-cylinder gasoline engine also produced by Honda associates in Anna, Ohio. As in all new 2009 model Honda and Acura automobiles, the engine meets or exceeds US EPA Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions standards. The Civic sedan also qualifies as an Ultra-Low Emission Vehicle (AT-PZEV) as rated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB).