Toyota Leads US Sales Gains for Gas-Electric Cars/SUVs

April 19, 2005 by Jeff Shepard

Toyota Motor Corp. (Nagoya, Japan) widened its lead in US sales of fuel-efficient hybrids, which more than doubled in the first quarter amid record fuel prices. Hybrid sales rose to 35,474 cars and sport-utility vehicles from 16,087 a year earlier. Toyota's Prius car accounted for 22,880.

Hybrid sales were aided by retail gasoline prices that rose to an average $2.15 a gallon in March and since climbed to $2.28. The gasoline prices, up 22% in the quarter based on US Energy Department figures, and the increase in hybrid models are spurring sales. The vehicles reduce fuel use by combining a gas engine and an electric motor powered by batteries that recharge during braking and when the engine is running. Fuel economy is about 50% higher than for similar gas-only models.

For all of 2005, Toyota, Honda Motor Co. and Ford Motor Co. expect to sell a total of 210,000 gasoline-electric vehicles in the US, more than double last year's 86,203. Based on the forecasts, Toyota would have almost 70% of the market. Toyota expects Prius sales to almost double this year to 100,000 from 53,991 last year. The company began selling the Lexus RX 400h hybrid SUV, and forecasts sales this year of 25,000. Toyota will add the midsize Highlander hybrid SUV in June, with a sales goal of 20,000 vehicles.