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Toyota Motor Corp. said it expects U.S. sales of at least 16,000 plug-in Prius hatchbacks in 2012 after the model debuts early in the year.

The new version of the world’s best-selling hybrid, designed to be recharged from a standard 110-volt outlet, will go at least 21 km solely on its lithium-ion battery pack, John Hanson, a Toyota spokesman, said. After that, it will operate like a standard Prius, averaging 50 miles per gallon (21.26 km per liter) of gasoline in city and highway driving, he said.

“We think it’s going to be a strong seller and we’ll deliver to whatever level the market wants,” he said Wednesday. “We’re certainly on line to sell 16,000 to 17,000 in 2012.”

Toyota has dominated sales of alternative-power vehicles since it brought the Prius to the U.S. in 2000, selling 140,928 of the hybrids last year.

The new version joins a market for rechargeable autos led this year by Nissan Motor Co.’s electric Leaf and General Motors Co.’s plug-in Volt.

The Leaf and Volt offer greater all-electric range, with as much as 160 km for Nissan’s model and about 56 km for the GM car. The Prius plug-in will have a pricing edge. Hanson said the new version will begin U.S. sales “very early” next year, without elaborating.

Toyota expects the plug-in Prius to sell for $3,000 to $5,000 more than a standard version, which starts at $23,520, said Jana Hartline, a company spokeswoman.

The car should qualify for a federal tax credit of at least $2,500, Hartline said. While Toyota hasn’t begun a promotional campaign for the plug-in, 29,000 potential customers have “pre registered” to buy one on the company’s website, she said.

In California, the plug-in Prius should also qualify for a $1,500 rebate and be allowed to use carpool lanes even with a solo driver, said Mike Ferry, program manager for the state’s Center for Sustainable Energy, which distributes the payments.

The most populous U.S. state is requiring sales of plug-ins and battery-only autos starting in 2012 to reduce pollution.

Nissan said Thursday that 2012 model Leafs would cost $35,200 to $37,250, an increase of 7.4 percent and 10 percent from 2011 versions, to cover additional equipment.

That’s before a $7,500 federal tax credit. Ferry said the Leaf also qualifies for a $2,500 California rebate in 2012 and carpool-lane access.

GM’s Volt costs $40,280, before the $7,500 federal tax credit. While the 2011 Volt didn’t qualify for California rebates, the automaker has said it will meet state requirements by 2012.

That would let buyers get a $1,500 rebate and access to carpool lanes with a solo driver, Ferry said.

Toyota’s Hartline said the plug-in Prius’s “relatively small battery” doesn’t require 240-volt home chargers, which cost about $2,000 to install and may also require rewiring for older houses that can add a few thousand dollars in expenses.

“We’re finding in our research, from our demonstration program, that that is an appealing factor for many people,” said Hartline, who is based at Toyota’s U.S. sales unit in Torrance, California.

The model recharges in three hours from a 110-volt outlet or as little as 90 minutes from a 240-volt charger, she said.

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