Toyota Motor plans to double the number of models that use hybrid engines to six by about 2006, including sport-utility vehicles, company president Fujio Cho said, according to Bloomberg News.

Toyota, which has sold 140,000 cars with engines driven by a combination of petrol and electricity since 1997, plans to release a larger, faster and cleaner version of the Prius hatchback later this year. "We will release hybrid sport-utility vehicles in the next two to three years," Cho told Bloomberg News in a television interview at Toyota's fifth environmental forum in Tokyo.

The maker of the Toyota Harrier/Lexus RX330 sport-utility needs to expand its model range and cut prices to attract more customers in the $US2.5 billion hybrid vehicle market, which Credit Suisse First Boston Japan Inc. expects to triple by 2006, Bloomberg News said, noting that the Prius now costs about $US3,000 more than a petrol-engine car.

"To make their green cars successful there are two main objectives, which are meeting emission regulations and offering lower prices," Masayuki Kubota, who helps manage the equivalent of $8.5 billion at Daiwa SB Investments Ltd, told Bloomberg News. "Once they are met, sales of hybrids will surge."

Toyota, which wants to raise its global share to 15% early next decade from 10% in part by offering customers more hybrid models, was the first car maker to release vehicles with petrol-electric engines for commercial sale, starting with the Prius in 1997, Bloomberg News noted.

Toyota's release of petrol-electric sport-utilities may give it a promotional edge over rivals in a vehicle class that's drawn criticism from environmentalists for wasting energy, the news agency suggested.

Toyota will continue to increase profits from hybrid cars, Cho reportedly said, without providing detail. He added the car maker is ready to start installing hybrid systems in other models. There may be two to three different versions of the current hybrid system, he reportedly said without elaborating.

"We now have three hybrid models and in the next two to three years, we will probably have about double that," Cho said, according to Bloomberg News.

Toyota probably needs to sell at least 300,000 units a year to make its hybrid project profitable, Koji Endo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Japan Inc, told Bloomberg News.

"It will help Toyota if it offers a wider range of models to be able to supply a variety of customers," Endo reportedly said.

Toyota currently sells three hybrid models including the Prius sedan, Estima [Previa] minivan and Crown luxury car and said in January that it will release a hybrid version of the RX330 in the US, Bloomberg News said.

Cho reportedly said the automaker's earlier plan to sell 300,000 hybrid cars annually by 2005 may be delayed by a year.

"The Japanese government is driving luxury cars such as the Century and Celsior sedans, while Toyota has released a mid-sized hybrid car and is planning to release a sport-utility version," Cho told Bloomberg News. As a result Toyota "quickly reviewed" plans on model releases to meet customer demands, he said.

Cho, who acknowledges the cost of making cars greener can be prohibitive, reportedly said the company "will be offering" the technology as long it makes business sense.

He said "nothing has been decided" on supplying hybrid technology to other companies. These include Renault SA, Nissan's alliance partner, PSA Peugeot Citroen, which Toyota is working on building smaller cars and General Motors, with which it cooperates in environmental technology, Bloomberg News said.

"Greener cars won't spread if it's only Toyota that uses the technology," Cho told Bloomberg News.