Toyota’s petrol-electric hybrid Prius has become a “politically correct” must-have amongst US celebrities, particularly Hollywood stars, the Daily Telegraph (DT) reported.

The newspaper said that, though the compact four-door saloon may well look like “the sort of vehicle celebrities used to farm out to their personal assistants”, the Prius now numbers “a list of owners that reads like something from the pages of People magazine”, including Silence of the Lambs actor Anthony Hopkins, former X-Files star David Duchovny and Titanic heartthrob Leonardo DiCaprio.

The DT said that DiCaprio, who has spoken out on environment issues in the past, liked his Prius so much he bought another three for his mother, father and stepmother.

According to the Daily Telegraph, DiCapro recently said: “My family and I drive them all over Los Angeles. I can’t find any downside.”

Meanwhile, the paper added, Cameron Diaz told NBC Tonight Show host Jay Leno that her Prius gets 52 miles per gallon.

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“Isn’t that exciting?” Diaz reportedly asked Leno. “The craziest thing is, you’re sitting at the stop sign and you can’t hear anything. And you’re like: ‘Oh my God! My car has died! But you know what? It’s just like a golf cart.”

The Daily Telegraph said that the Toyota dealer in Santa Monica, (a pricey beachside suburb a short drive west along Wilshire Boulevard from Hollywood and Beverly Hills) claims to sell more Priuses than any other US dealer and that demand has almost doubled in recent months.

“Celebrities? They just love them,” showroom manager Rhett Butler told the Daily Telegraph.

The newspaper said that the Prius’ new-found popularity in the US, where supplies are currently rationed to 24,000 a year in a 17-million unit new car and light truck market, has been attributed to rising petrol prices, global warming fears and a post-September 11 desire to become less-dependent on Middle East oil.

However, the little hybrid Toyota’s surge of popularity is not due to a sudden wave of environment-consciousness amongst Hollywood’s BMW and Jaguar-driving A-list, the Daily Telegraph said.

Instead, the newspaper said, the car is more likely to be just the result of a current fad for electric cars.

“As soon as the likes of DiCaprio, Hopkins and Diaz start driving funny little cars, it seems that everyone in town wants a piece of the action,” the Daily Telegraph concluded.