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Sales of hybrid cars are on the rise

Associated Press

DETROIT -- The lure of the Toyota Prius and other hybrid cars helped drive healthy sales of electric and alternative-powered vehicles last year, according to new data that shows the hybrid market has grown by 960 percent since 2000.

New hybrid vehicle registrations totaled 83,153 in 2004, an 81 percent increase over the year before, according to data released today by R.L. Polk &; Co., a Southfield-based firm that collects and interprets automotive data.

Even though hybrids still represent less than 1 percent of the 17 million new vehicles sold in 2004, major automakers are planning to introduce about a dozen new hybrids during the next three years.

Lonnie Miller, director of analytical solutions for Polk, said federal and state tax credits for fuel-efficient vehicles have helped spur hybrid sales.

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Despite the arrival of Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Escape hybrid in showrooms last year, Japanese automakers continued to control the vast majority of the U.S. market, Polk said. Japanese brands accounted for more than 96 percent of the hybrid vehicles registered.

Toyota Motor Corp., which was the first automaker to commercially mass-produce and sell hybrid cars, continues to dominate the market.

The Toyota Prius, which went on sale in the United States in 2000, occupied 64 percent of the U.S. hybrid market last year, with 53,761 new Prius cars registered, Polk said.

Toyota is on track to double Prius sales again this year. The company sold 22,880 Prius cars in the first three months of the year, more than double the number it sold in the first three months of 2004, according to Autodata Corp. Toyota has said it plans to produce 100,000 Prius cars for the North American market this year.

Hybrid vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines but also are equipped with batteries that are recharged while driving and an electric motor to assist with power. They typically cost $3,000 to $4,000 more than traditional models.

Polk said California was once again the top state for growth in hybrid vehicle registrations.

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