Toyota Passes Milestone in Selling 5 Million Hybrid Cars

Shuji Kajiyama/AP Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada poses with two models of the Prius at the automaker's headquarters in Tokyo on Wednesday. Toyota's global sales of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles surpassed 5 million in March, a milestone.
By YURI KAGEYAMA

TOKYO -- Toyota's global sales of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles have surpassed 5 million in a milestone for a technology that was initially greeted with skepticism.

The Japanese automaker, which said Wednesday it had sold 5.125 million hybrid vehicles as of the end of March, started selling the Prius, the world's first mass produced hybrid passenger car, in 1997. Gas-electric hybrids deliver fuel efficiency by switching back and forth between a gasoline engine and electric motor depending on speed and other driving conditions, and recharges as it travels.

"What an achievement for this technology to have grown this widespread," said Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, known as "the father of the Prius" for having led the team that developed the hit model. "I believe there is a lot more room for this technology to grow," he told reporters at Toyota's Tokyo office Wednesday.

Toyota's hybrid vehicles now account for 14 percent of its global sales and 40 percent of its sales in Japan. Toyota Motor Corp. (TM) sells 19 hybrid passenger car models and one plug-in hybrid, and is promising 18 new hybrids from now through December 2015.

Uchiyamada recalled that expectations had been low for the hybrid to catch on.

The production plan had called for barely 1,000 cars a month, he said, and he had to beg to raise it to that from 300 a month. But when the Prius was announced, people were flocking to dealers in Japan to place their orders. And there wasn't even a sample model to check out yet in the showrooms.

When the Prius was introduced in the U.S., it was again met with enthusiasm, by people Uchiyamada called "opinion leaders," including Hollywood stars.


It was almost all too good to be true, he recalled, as marketing experts had warned that Americans would likely not want a car like the Prius because gas prices were then relatively low.

Since then, gas prices have skyrocketed and nations around the world are grappling with pollution and global warming.

After the March 2011 quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters in Japan, hybrids found a new use, helping deliver electricity during blackouts in disaster zones.

The hybrid has been so successful the only obstacle for Toyota may be that many rivals are in the game now.

"Toyota has led the world on cost-effective fuel-saving hybrid technology for more than a decade, but the competition is really heating up," said David Friedman, senior engineer and deputy director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists in Washington, D.C.

The organization thinks that Honda Motor Co. (HMC), Toyota's Japanese rival, overall offers greener cars, despite Toyota's hybrid success.

"To stay ahead of the pack on hybrids," he said, "they will need to focus their hybrids on boosting fuel economy further and cutting costs, while picking up the pace in innovation in their conventional and electric cars."

The big growth in auto sales is coming these days from emerging markets, where hybrids have yet to catch on because of higher prices compared to gasoline-powered autos.

Uchiyamada acknowledged that costs will have to come down. But he said such nations were also growing concerned about energy efficiency and emissions and they need to offer incentives, or subsidies, for consumers so they can buy hybrids.

"Hybrids have now become a core technology," he said.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at www.twitter.com/yurikageyama


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song4u2007

FOR ANYONE READING THIS.....BEWARE OF THE FINE PRINT....I own and operate a 2001
Prius.....The main battery lasted beyond the warrentee....They put a new, factory battery for $2500.....Then they told me it is a replacement part and only guarenteed for ONE YEAR.......
BUMMER........SELL YOUR CAR TO SOME POOR SLOB BEFORE THE WARENTEE EXPIRES.....STICK SOMEONE ELSE WITH THE PROBLEM.... I WILL NOT, but Toyota is hiding the fact that they will not stand behind their product beyond the original warrentee...Not Sing A Song

April 17 2013 at 6:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Hitechceo

My wife and I both drive a Prius. My Prius C is less than a month old. I once logged 67.5 MPG in the city. This is not something that happens all the time but I am constantly around 50 MPG. I like how other manufacturers report up to 37 MPG. This is only on the highway on a good day. If you never drive on the highway you will never see anything close to those numbers. The Prius gets it's best mileage in the city due to the constant start and stops. This is our third Prius and I've had them for three years with no problems what-so-ever. I also have a Solstice. My problem is if the Prius and Solstice is sitting side by side and I need to run an errand, I take the Prius 9 times out of 10 even on a sunny day and that's not right!

April 17 2013 at 5:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Matthew

Hybrid Cars, E10, Ethanol, and Electric Cars are still not better than the good ole fashioned 100% gas car. They have the tech to make a gas car get over 100mpg, but I think that the pollution control crap is what stopped that. EPA might be saving the earth, but they are killing the poor man. Don't take me wrong. I want to keep the environment clean too, but there has to be a better way. Ethanol is the worst thing that EVER happened to the automobile. I guess the plug in hybrid is my favorite alternative to !00% gas, but they are still priced way outta my range.

April 17 2013 at 11:09 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
goatcars

Toyota got a jump on the market with a practical "green" car as opposed to an ALL electric like the Leaf which is simply not practical. While the "savings" are debatable, the Prius is a" feel good" choice for people who want to show their neighbors they are concerned with the environment. Few people sit down and actually compute the TOTAL cost of owning a hybrid for 5 years...like replacement batteries, maintenance etc.

April 17 2013 at 8:34 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to goatcars's comment
wilster008

Have had our Prius since February, 2006. In the first 5 years we had no expense other than regular maintenance and 1 set of new tires. In the past 2 years we had to replace a battery (NOT the hybrid battery) and had a transmission leak fixed. Total cost for those two items was about $400. That big battery is guaranteed for a total of 8 years. We love our Prius and cannot imagine driving anything else. We will get a new Prius when the time comes.

April 17 2013 at 9:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply