Toyota Motor Sales USA says its dealers are experiencing “an overwhelming response” to the 2004 second-generation Prius petrol-electric hybrid vehicle and nearly 10,000 orders have been taken ahead of the October 17 launch.

“We knew interest in the new Prius would be strong,” said TMS senior vice president and general manager Don Esmond. “However, with the incredible demand we are experiencing, we may need to request additional production from our Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City, Japan.” The current production plan of 36,000 vehicles for 2004 calendar year is up from a high of 21,000 units in 2002.

TMS says its dealers have received more than 3,000 pre-orders and an estimated 4,000 advance orders have been received for public and private fleets, and more than 1,200 orders for TRAC, Toyota’s rental car operation. More than 1,200 additional orders have been received from a special “Prius Pioneers” early-buyer internet programme.

When the first-generation Prius was launched in the summer of 2000, sales transactions were initiated by early buyers on the internet. The process culminated with vehicle delivery at a Toyota dealership of the buyer’s choice. Toyota refers to these initial owners as “Prius Pioneers” for “their leap-of-faith in an all-new, but promising technology”.

The company now claims that many of these early buyers became outspoken advocates of the Prius and its hybrid technology, strongly recommending the vehicle to family and friends…and anyone tuned in to internet chat rooms.

As a “loyalty” reward, a one-time Prius early buyer programme ran from June 30th to July 20th and nearly 18,000 “Prius Pioneers” were identified and notified via the internet and given the opportunity to order their new car online. These vehicles will be the first delivered at Toyota dealerships from launch day.

TMS says that, in July and August, the new Prius was the most popular model on its public web site, with nearly 385,000 visits by unique users each month.

Dealers in Japan have also taken 11,000 Prius orders in the redesigned car’s first two weeks on the market, quadrupling what was expected and far exceeding production capacity.