Toyota Motor Corp., Japan's biggest carmaker, said it had sold more than 1 million gasoline-electric hybrid cars, five times as many as its nearest competitor, since it introduced the Prius in 1997.
The company had sold 1.047 million hybrid vehicles including the Prius and Lexus LS600h as of May 31, it said in a faxed statement today.
Demand for hybrid cars is helping Toyota's sales gain in the U.S., the world's largest auto market, because higher fuel costs prompt consumers to pick more fuel-efficient vehicles including hybrids. Toyota plans to sell 1 million hybrid cars annually in the early 2010s.
``Toyota is a dominant in the hybrid market,'' said Koichi Ogawa, who helps oversee $28 billion at Daiwa SB Investments Ltd. in Tokyo. ``It will continue for a while because of rising gas prices.''
Toyota, based in central Japan's Toyota city, forecast total vehicle sales of 9.34 million this year, including sales at subsidiaries Daihatsu Motor Co. and Hino Motors Ltd.
Sales of Toyota's most popular hybrid car, the Prius, tripled to a record 24,009 last month in the U.S., ranking it ninth among all vehicles. The surge helped Toyota sell 269,023 cars and light trucks in May, a record for the month.
Honda Motor Co., Japan's second-largest automaker, has sold 196,000 hybrid vehicles as of March 31 after releasing its first model in 1999.
The average price of a gallon of gasoline reached an all- time high of $3.23 during May, according to the American Automobile Association.
A hybrid vehicle combines a conventional gasoline engine with an electric motor. The motor powers the vehicle at low speeds, and the gasoline engine kicks in as the car gains speed. The motor's battery pack is charged by the gasoline engine and by power regenerated by the brakes.
Toyota shares rose 0.3 percent to 7,620 yen at the 3 p.m. close in Tokyo. Honda shares were unchanged at 4,280 yen.
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