Toyota is currently rolling out its second generation Prius gasoline-electric hybrid model to journalists across Europe and is making it clear that it is serious about a significant role for its hybrid powertrain technology into the long-term.

At the UK Prius test drive day for journalists Toyota GB spokesman Alun Parry told just-auto that Toyota is committed to further developing its hybrid technology and that it will also be incorporated into some upcoming Lexus models.

Parry acknowledged the importance of diesel in Europe and that Toyota had recently benefited from the introduction of more diesel engines, but said that Toyota believes there is a market niche for hybrids in Europe that the company wants to continue to develop.

"We see Toyota's hybrid technology as something that will be around for some time to come and it's important to realise that there are widely varying estimates in the industry on when hydrogen fuel cell technology will really take over," said Parry.

"In the UK we have plenty of interest in the new Prius and our sales target for 2004 is 1,500 units. Of that total around 500 are expected to be fleet sales.

"On the private retail side we've noticed that a number of previous generation Prius customers are interested in the new model and also that the car's exemption from central London's Congestion Charge is interesting potential buyers," he added.

Globally Toyota has a 2004 sales target for Prius of 76,000 units with most sales destined for North America and Japan. Some 5,000 units are earmarked for Europe (including 1,500 units for the UK). Toyota says that in September the new Prius gathered around 27,500 advance orders in the US and Japan.

Toyota has introduced a number of hybrid models onto the Japanese market only including an Estima MPV hybrid and Toyota Crown mild hybrid.

In 2004, Toyota's luxury channel is planning to launch a hybrid version of its Lexus RX 330 SUV and another Lexus hybrid model is expected to follow. The RX 330-based hybrid SUV is expected to be shown at the Detroit Motor Show in early January.

The latest Toyota Prius is described by Toyota as a showcase for breakthrough technologies that delivers D-segment (upper medium Ford Mondeo class) levels of space, comfort and performance with B-segment (supermini - eg Ford Fiesta) levels of economy. Figures for fuel consumption are 65.7mpg for combined and 67.3mpg for extra-urban driving. In the urban cycle, Prius returns 56.5mpg - a figure which Toyota claims beats every other B-segment car on the market by a large margin. Prius can accelerate from 0-62mph in less than 11 seconds (3 seconds faster than Prius Mk1).

The main technical difference between the latest Prius and its predecessor is a more powerful electric motor that boosts the hybrid system's maximum voltage to 500V against 274V previously. The new hybrid system goes by the name Hybrid Synergy Drive and its technical characteristics mean that the petrol engine can be used less.

The new Toyota Prius goes on sale in the UK in January and its hybrid components will be covered by an eight-year/100,000-mile warranty in addition to Toyota's standard three-year/60,000-mile warranty.

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