According to a Japanese newspaper, Toyota will double production of its hybrid Prius at one of its Japanese plants this year. Prius sales remain at modest totals in the UK, but the US has been gobbling them up. In 2004 Toyota sold 58,000 Priuses in the States, but in 2005 it sold just over 100,000. Last year, Toyota President Fujio Cho announced that it was aiming for a million hybrid vehicle sales a year by 2010.
Whether it reaches that target remains to be seen, but consistently high fuel prices have had a startling effect in the US. Americans and their legislators still don’t like diesels, so hybrids are an area of major sales growth there: of Toyota’s 234,000 global hybrid sales last year, the US accounted for around 150,000 of them.
In the UK, continued exemption from the London Congestion has helped the Prius to 3700 sales in 2005; Toyota’s expectation is to sell 4500 this year. It sold 1500 in 2004. Even Volvo Truck is joining the field with this concept (see right). It has a hybrid powertrain of an electric motor and a diesel engine. In low speed stop-start driving, it can run on electric power alone. So that charging, belching refuse truck may have its noise and emissions clipped: Volvo claims fuel savings of up to 35 per cent.
Problems remain with hybrids: they’re complex and expensive to build, and don’t reduce emissions or increase fuel economy by huge margins. But they are a functional part-alternative to petrol and diesel and require little extra infrastructure.