Toyota Hybrid Sales Gain as U.S. Demand Offsets Slump in Japan

Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s biggest maker of hybrid vehicles, boosted first-quarter sales of dual-powered autos as a jump in overseas demand outweighed a drop in Japan, where government subsidies expired last year.

Deliveries rose to 332,100 units worldwide in the three months ended in March, compared with 329,000 units a year earlier, the company said today by e-mail.

Hybrids accounted for 14 percent of Toyota’s total vehicle sales last year and the company expects the category to help it maintain a lead in global car sales over General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG. Led by the Prius, the world’s best-selling hybrid vehicle, deliveries of vehicles powered by electricity and gasoline reached 5 million units through March 31, the Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker said in a statement today.

“We expect hybrids to eventually become the majority in markets that are conscious about the environment,” Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota vice chairman, said today, without giving a timeframe. Uchiyamada was chief engineer for the first-generation Prius, introduced in 1997.

The carmaker plans to introduce 18 new hybrid models, including model changes, from this year to 2015, according to the statement. Hybrids run on batteries that are charged when braking. When the charge runs down, the engine automatically shifts to gasoline power until the batteries are recharged. Plug-in models allow the driver to also charge the battery from an electrical outlet.

Toyota expects U.S. Prius sales to reach “about a quarter million” vehicles this year, Jim Lentz, head of Toyota’s U.S. sales unit, said last month. Deliveries at that level would be a record for the world’s best-selling hybrid line, and 5.6 percent more than in 2012.

The automaker’s biggest Japanese rival, Nissan Motor Co. is also seeking growth from alternative energy vehicles and last month put Chief Operating Officer Toshiyuki Shiga directly in charge of electric cars. Chief Executive Officer Carlos Ghosn has said he expects that by the end of the decade, 1 in 10 cars sold will be electric.

-- Editors: Dave McCombs, Suresh Seshadri

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