Gasoline prices, which surged during the first half of last year, have come down drastically, and it is unclear whether gasoline-electric hybrids will continue to sell as briskly as they have in recent years. U.S. sales of Toyota’s Prius hybrid were down 33.6 percent on year in February.
Toyota is introducing the third-generation Prius later this year, but that’s expected to meet intense competition from the Insight hybrid from Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. The Insight starts at $19,800 in the U.S., where it will go on sale March 24, as the cheapest hybrid on the commercial market.
Since going on sale about a month ago in Japan for 1.89 million yen ($19,000), Honda has racked up 18,000 orders for the Insight, more than triple the 5,000 that Honda targeted. Toyota has not disclosed prices for the upcoming Prius.
Toyota, who also makes the Camry and Corolla sedans, introduced gasoline-electric hybrids to Japan in 1997, and the U.S. in July 2000, with its Prius. The Prius is still the world’s top-selling hybrid.
“One million hybrids in less than nine years indicates how quickly American consumers have accepted this important technology,” Jim Lentz, Toyota’s top U.S. executive, said in a statement.
Toyota controlled nearly 75 percent of the U.S. hybrid market over the past decade, and cumulative worldwide sales of the company’s Prius and luxury Lexus hybrids topped 1.7 million vehicles through January. Toyota has sold 700,000 Prius cars in the U.S., more than half the 1.2 million sold worldwide.
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