- The Washington Times - Friday, June 8, 2007

Sales of Toyota hybrid vehicles passed 1 million last month, the Japanese company said yesterday, with more than half of those in the U.S.

Through May, the automaker sold a total of 1.047 million hybrids, including 344,600 in Japan, since its first hybrid model, the Prius, was introduced in 1997.

Toyota is clearly ahead of the pack in hybrids,” Tsuyoshi Mochimaru, auto analyst with Deutsche Securities in Tokyo, told the Associated Press.

In May, when gasoline levels nationwide reached an average of $3.22 for a gallon of regular, Toyota posted sales of 36,101 hybrids, up 102 percent from a year earlier. The Toyota division sold 34,174 hybrid cars, while its Lexus division sold 1,927.

The Prius relies on a system of switching between a gas engine and an electric motor that delivers superior mileage. The car gets 55 miles a gallon on combined city and highway driving conditions.

The company anticipates combined sales of Toyota and Lexus hybrids to be a quarter million in the U.S. this year, said Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc.

The strong sales for Toyota hybrids come as tax credits from the IRS have decreased. Since Oct. 1, the tax credit for such vehiclesbegan to be reduced because 60,000 Toyota hybrids had been sold. Now, Toyota customers may claim 50 percent of the credit.

The tax credit reached as high as $3,150 for the Toyota Prius before Toyota reached the 60,000 level.

David Reynolds, general sales manager at Alexandria Toyota, said sales of the Prius have been particularly high. They increased 50 percent in May from the same period last year, while sales of the dealership’s best-selling cars, the Corolla and Camry, have slightly increased, he said.

“I haven’t seen an increase on a car [that has a sales history] in a long time,” Mr. Reynolds said.

Mr. Reynolds expects sales to keep increasing, especially if gas continues to riseand customers start realizing that there is no waiting list for the Prius. Customers generally are less likely to buy a car if they can’t have it right away, he said.

Other Toyota hybrids have posted sales increases said Brian Ham, sales manager of Bill Page Toyota in Falls Church. But while the sales of the Prius have at least doubled, sales of the Toyota Camry and Highlander sport utility vehicle hybrids have not kept pace.

“Camry and Highlander hybrids get better gas mileage than gas cars, but the Prius is more focused on gas mileage, so people are more likely to go to that,” Mr. Ham said.

But not all hybrids are selling well. Honda Motor Co. said earlier this week that it will discontinue the hybrid versions of the Accord sedans, which sold poorly.

The popularity of hybrid cars, among other factors, have helped changed the rules about high-occupancy lanes in Maryland and Virginia.

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