The Financial Times reports that the rapidly rising petrol price will help boost sales of petrol-electric hybrids in Europe next year, according to Toyota, owner of the Lexus car brand.

It expects hybrids to make up a quarter of all Lexus vehicles sold in Europe in 2006. The expected boom in hybrid sales comes as interest in fuel-efficient hybrids is rocketing in the US, the biggest car market.

The expected rise in European sales shows Toyota is confident of overcoming Europe’s preference for diesel engines. “More and more vehicles from now on will be hybrid,” said Takis Athansopoulos, executive vice-president of Toyota Europe, in the FT report.

Toyota is already forecasting that sales of its Prius hybrid in Europe will double to more than 20,000 units this year.

However, Katsuaki Watanabe, Toyota president, sounded a cautious note over the company’s goal of selling 1m hybrid cars a year by 2010, saying that he aimed for the “early part of the 2010s”.

This year, global sales should come close to 250,000, behind the previous target of 300,000 due to shortages of production capacity. Toyota said earlier this week it would expand capacity for vital hybrid components that are in short supply.

Mr Watanabe said there had been no noticeable change in buying habits in the past month as fuel prices have reached record levels, echoing comments from several other motor industry chief executives gathered at the Frankfurt motor show.

But Volkswagen, the German manufacturer, said it had seen a marked increase in demand for diesel-powered cars in the US, which has traditionally been resistant to the fuel-efficient engines, the FT said.