Prius Seekers May Have to Wait a Year

Eager hybrid buyers may have to wait until next April for deliveries of the latest Toyota (NYSE:TM) Prius because of battery shortages brought on from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan that has forced the automaker to delay production, according to the Associated Press.

The more spacious Prius Alpha was launched on Friday, several weeks after its initial date in April. The natural disaster in Japan has forced suppliers to cut back, which has ultimately impacted Toyota production.

The Tokyo-based automaker has said it doesn’t anticipate production will return to normal until late this year. The battery shortage, meanwhile, was an issue even before the earthquake hit, thus worsening an already-bad supply problem.

The gasoline-electric Prius hybrid has been a big seller for Toyota. In Japan, the company already received some 25,000 orders for the new Prius models - 18,000 for the model with nickel-metal hydride batteries, and 7,000 for the one with lithium-ion batteries.

The lithium-ion battery-operated Prius, called the Prius +, has three rows seating seven people. The car is being offered in Europe mid-2012. The more demanded model, called the Prius V, only sits five people, and is set to go on sale in North America later this year.

A Toyota executive told the Associated Press that only 1,000 of the Prius’ with lithium-ion batteries could be produced a month. Toyota is only planning to produce 2,000 of the other model a month, though it is striving to increase production.

The Japanese automaker aims to sell 2,000 new Prius’ a month in both North American and Europe, though the executive said some customers may be waiting until April.

Earlier this week, Toyota said North American production was expected to ramp up earlier than expected. Beginning in June, overall production in the region will reach approximately 70% of normal levels, up from 30% in the current month.

Models returning to 100% production in June are the Avalon, Camry, Corolla, Highlander, Matrix, Sequoia, Sienna and Venza.