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Hybrid vehicles getting more popular

A 2007 Toyota Prius is shown in a Sept. 2006 photo. (Toyota)

March 4, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Hybrid vehicles that use a gasoline engine and a battery electric motor save fuel, and keep getting more and more popular.

But they started out as a bit of an oddity. It was 12 years ago that Toyota began selling the original generation of the Prius. It didn't exactly fly out the door at first.

"When we launched this vehicle 12 years ago, a good year was 13-14-15,000, now a good month is about that volume," said Jim Lentz, president and COO of Toyota Motor Sales USA.

The Prius is a big success today and that name has almost become synonymous with the term "hybrid." So much so that Toyota will expand Prius into a sub-brand starting later this year with the Prius V, a kind of station wagon variation.

There will also be a Prius that plugs in and can go a dozen or so miles on battery power alone and a lower-priced entry model.

Since hybrids generally get much better gas mileage than a comparable conventional car, more and more buyers are looking at them, especially as we hear about gas prices going higher.

There's also the aspect of carbon output.

The Petersen Automotive Museum even has a permanent gallery on alternative fuel cars - things over the years that were supposed to replace gasoline, their last addition is an electric Ford Focus that was used in the Jay Leno TV show. And while it seems electric cars are the hot new thing, they're still niche players, hybrids will be with us for a long time.

In fact, if you attended the recent L.A. Auto Show, you probably noticed that hybrids were everywhere, either already in production or in development.

Toyota still leads the way, with about 70 percent of the hybrid market and they're promising more choices in the future.

"We think our core strategy now and into the future will still be hybrids. He think it's the best bang for the buck. You don't have range anxiety, you don't have to worry about infrastructure that you do with electrics," said Lentz.

From the lowest-priced economy models to full-on luxury cars, hybrids seem to be here to stay. We'll keep seeing more and more of them offered since they're no longer the automotive oddity they started out as.