Toyota could fall short of Prius U.S. sales target this year

By Deepa Seetharaman

DETROIT (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp. <7203.T>, the dominant player in the U.S. hybrid vehicle market, could miss its goal to sell 250,000 of its Prius models in the United States this year, a company executive said on Tuesday.

"The 240,000 to 250,000 range is kind of where we're settling our sights for the Prius family," Bill Fay, Toyota's group vice president for U.S. sales, told reporters during a call to discuss June U.S. auto sales.

Prius sales were down 5.1 percent during the first half of the year, while Toyota's overall auto sales were up 6 percent.

Last year, the Japanese automaker sold a record 236,659 Prius models in the U.S. market. But falling gas prices earlier this year hurt hybrid demand and the Prius has been increasingly challenged by rivals, such as Ford Motor Co.'s <F.N> C-Max.

Still, the pace of the Prius' sales decline has eased in recent months. Prius sales rose about 10 percent in June when Toyota ramped up its marketing for its hybrid Prius lineup.

Those marketing efforts will continue in July before Toyota launches its new Corolla compact car and Tundra pickup truck in the fall. Earlier this year, Toyota introduced a new Avalon sedan and RAV4 sport-utility vehicle.

"We will continue to put some more focus on Prius and the Prius family," Fay said. "We will continue to give it a little more attention than we were able to give it launching RAV and Avalon in the beginning of the year."

Toyota is the third best-selling automaker in the United States after General Motors Co. <GM.N> and Ford.

(Reporting by Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Gary Hill and Dan Grebler)