The larger, redesigned 2004 Toyota Prius electric-petrol hybrid will carry the same $19,995 price tag as the current model when it goes on sale in the United States this autumn. The price hasn’t changed since the model was launched in the US three years ago, Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) said.

“The second-generation Prius will move from a compact-class vehicle to a midsize,” said TMS general manager Don Esmond. “It will deliver double the fuel efficiency of any midsize sedan on the road, and will accelerate on a par with the Camry. Its new Hybrid Synergy Drive system will provide the best emissions ratings in the industry. Best of all, it will be an absolute steal at under $20,000.”

When the first-generation Prius was launched in the summer of 2000, all 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. TMS refers to these initial owners as “Prius Pioneers” for their “leap-of-faith in an all-new, but promising technology”.

“We are convinced that the remarkable success of the first-generation Prius can be attributed to the Prius Pioneers,” said Esmond. “Of course, they were important because they purchased the Prius. But, more importantly, they have been persuasive and enthusiastic advocates of both the product and the technology. As a way of saying thanks, we have developed an early-buyer program, giving these Prius Pioneers an opportunity to be first in line, again.”

The early-buyer programme began on June 30 and runs to July 20. Nearly 18,000 current model owners have been identified and will be notified via the internet, and with a follow-up letter. Vehicles will be delivered by dealerships from mid-October, when the Prius officially goes on sale, nationwide.

European-market sales also begin this autumn after the new Prius makes its public debut at the Frankfurt motor show in September.

Toyota’s high hopes for its new Prius hybrid