Toyota Hybrid Sales Top 1m

By: Anthony Fontanelle

The Toyota Motor Corp. said last Thursday that global sales of its hybrid vehicles, which were first introduced a decade ago, have topped one million - a landmark record for the fast-rising Japanese automaker.

Toyota's cumulative sales of hybrid vehicles totaled 1.047 million as of the end of May. Of those hybrids, nearly 345,000 were sold in Japan and 702,000 abroad, the company said in a statement.

The Prius is the apparent hybrid leader, with a total of 757,600 units sold since its launch in 1997 in Japan. The Japanese automaker began selling the Prius in North America, Europe and other places in 2000. In 2006, the model made up more than 40 percent of hybrid sales in the United States.

The Prius is the first mass-produced and marketed hybrid car. It went on sale in Japan in 1997, and worldwide in 2001. By the end of 2003, about 160,000 units had been produced for sale in Japan, Europe, and North America. The Prius has also accumulated several awards including Car of the Year for Europe, Japan and North America. But the hybrid became most famous for its fuel economy feature. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's revised fuel economy procedure rates the hybrid at 48 mpg city driving and 45 mpg on the highway.

In the U.S., the Prius initially attracted purchasers interested in its low particulate emissions, advanced technology, and high fuel economy. In the previous year, demand for the hybrid widened for a number of reasons. They include the rising gasoline prices, federal tax credits, as well as privileges for hybrid drivers. States like California, Maryland and Virginia allowed single-occupant hybrid vehicles in HOV-lanes.

At present, the demand for hybrids, which offer superior mileage by shifting between a gasoline engine and the electric motor, has dramatically increased amid rising oil prices and greater consumer concern about global warming.

"Toyota is clearly ahead of the pack in hybrids," said Tsuyoshi Mochimaru, an auto analyst with Deutsche Securities in Tokyo. Although most automakers are offering hybrids, the Japanese automaker has the advantage of selling the technology in its products for nearly ten years, and using feedback from drivers to make enhancements. The company does not only rely on information from laboratories and testing, it also delves deeper to include the consumers. This is also done in the and other auto parts from the German automaker. This is to secure the quality of the product lines.

Toyota, a world leader in gas-and-electric cars, believes hybrid technology is the way of the future. This is why it broadens its offers to include the Camry hybrid and the Lexus hybrids. "Hybrids will play a key role throughout our lineup," Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco said. "That means all vehicle categories."

But not all hybrids sell well. Hybrid SUVs, for instance, have struggled in sales compared to the Prius. This is partly because an SUV does not have a green image to start with, analysts said. Sales of Toyota's RX400h hybrid SUV, sold as the Harrier in Japan, has reached 85,000 worldwide since it was launched in 2005. Another hybrid SUV, the Highlander, known as the Kluger in Japan, has sold 67,000 over the same period. On the contrary, the Prius, has sold 478,800 units since the start of 2005.

Toyota continuously reiterates that the hybrid is the single big ecological technology of the future, holding more potential than the diesel or other innovations. The company's officials said that hybrids will continue to be important, even with the advent of more futuristic technologies like the electric vehicle and fuel-cells that run on hydrogen.

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