These days, there's always a sneaking suspicion that, when 'scoop' photos of a much-anticipated new car appear on the web, the manufacturer had a hand in it. Toyota, of course, is denying it had anything to do with the press kit-standard studio shots that first appeared on the likes of, Jalopnik and AutoblogGreen in the last day or so.

Toyota officially denies releasing the "unauthorised" photos while PriusChat said yesterday "the photos are not part of the official 'teaser' campaign that the 'Prius Team' username has been posting [in] the last 2 weeks [Toyota has been releasing photos showing detail aspects of the car but not the whole vehicle], and that the photos were not posted from within the Toyota network."

Toyota's 'official' blog, Open Road, said this: "We thought we'd take a moment to confirm that the car shown in these unauthorised photos - at least the ones we've seen so far - is indeed the new Prius.

"Sorry, we're not able to provide details. Those will be forthcoming when the car is formally introduced at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit in January.

"What we can tell you, however, is this: This new Prius will retain all of the virtues of the model that precedes it. It's about the same size as its forebear, but with more interior room and better fuel economy."

Whatever the source, official or unofficial, Toyota is surely enjoying the buzz details of the new car have created across the web in the last couple of days. Enthusiast sites are now full of fresh speculation and gossip - all of it free advance publicity for the automaker.

The redesigned Prius - the third generation - will include additonal 'plug-in' models expected to be added to the model line soon after launch in 2009.

Web reports this week have said the new car will have a larger petrol engine - possibly a 1.8 - that the current model's 1.5-litre unit.

Toyota Motor Europe has hinted strongly that the plug-in package is likely to be an option on this side of the Atlantic and is currently trialling the technology and street recharging systems using modified current Prius models in conjunction with French energy supplier EDF.