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Wed, Oct 01, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Toyota posts impressive orders for hybrid

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Toyota Motor Corp, the first automaker to sell cars powered by gasoline-electric hybrid engines, beat the sales target for its redesigned Prius hybrid more than threefold in the first month after its release.

Toyota, the world's third-largest automaker by unit sales, received 16,000 orders for the car after its introduction in Japan on Sept. 1, senior managing director Kyoji Sasazu said. The company set a sales target of 5,000 units in the first month, and 3,000 a month on average during the vehicle's life cycle.

"I personally hoped for 8,000" sales in the first month, Sasazu said after a press conference to release Toyota's new Sienta minivan in Tokyo yesterday.

Toyota, which posted its third straight record annual profit for the year ended March 31, said its auto sales at home may rise 0.6 percent to 1.72 million units this business year.

Toyota has sold more than 120,000 Prius cars in the last six years and has said it plans to double its hybrid lineup to six models by about 2006, including sport-utility vehicles.

Sasazu said selling the Prius through more channels is helping to raise sales.

The Prius, which costs between ?2.15 million (US$19,352) and ?2.57 million will be sold in the US and Europe later this year.

"The Prius isn't that cheap, but it's a happy surprise for us that the model is selling very well," Sasazu said.

Hybrids combine a gasoline engine with a battery pack and electric motor to cut exhaust emissions and fuel consumption.

Such engine components add at least US$3,000 to the price tag, analysts say.

Toyota and Honda Motor Co are the only companies in the world selling hybrids to the public. General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co plan to offer their own vehicles next year in the US, where hybrid buyers get a US$2,000 federal income-tax credit.

A mid-sized hybrid driving about 3,000km a year may save its owner as much as ?2.5 million (US$22,321) over four years, based on Japanese gasoline prices, said Koji Endo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Japan Inc.

The revamped Prius is 140kg lighter than its predecessor, helping to make it 15 percent more fuel-efficient.

The Toyota City-based automaker expects 76,000 Prius sales worldwide next year, including 36,000 in Japan, the same number in the US and about 5,000 in Europe, the company has said.

Toyota, which plans to sell 300,000 hybrid cars by 2006, now has a hybrid lineup including the Estima and Alphard minivans and the Crown luxury car. The automaker said in January it will release a hybrid version of the RX330 sport-utility in the US.

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