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Toyota expects US hybrid sales may rise 57% this year

Toyota Motor Corp., the world's biggest seller of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, expects US hybrid sales to rise as much as 57% this year.

Sales of the low-emission models may reach 300,000, up from 191,742 last year, Toyota North America President Jim Press said yesterday. The automaker's hybrid models now include Prius and Camry cars, and the RX 400h and Highlander sport-utility vehicles. Toyota Motor Corp. aims to boost global hybrid sales to 1 million units by early next decade.

The Toyota City, Japan-based company eventually will offer hybrid versions of all of its cars and trucks to meet demand for better fuel economy. „We expect customers to continue to be fuel conscious this year,” Press said in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. 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 battery pack is charged by the gasoline engine and by power regenerated by the brakes.

Separately, Press said Toyota hasn't decided on details of its eighth North American factory. „We don't talk about future investment and no decision has been made at this point,” he said. The company may announce a site for the factory in the US as early as this month, the Wall Street Journal said last week, citing people familiar with the situation. (Bloomberg)