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CAR confidential: The world goes mad for hybrid

Say the word hybrid and you think of one manufacturer: Toyota. The world’s most successful car brand has carved out a saintly, electric niche of its own in the past decade with cars like the Prius.

OK, so Honda builds hybrid cars and Ford offers some Stateside, but the Japanese firm is light years ahead in the petrol-electric race, and has churned out 900,000 hybrids in the past decade.

And now, just as other manufacturers are about to catch up, Toyota is about to move the goalposts again. European vice president Thierry Dombreval is intent on keeping the brand out in front and acknowledges the success of the Prius.

“We’ve sold 650,000 worldwide, and 50,000 of those in Europe,” he says.

“We are now doubling production and will build a million hybrids a year by early next decade.”

That’s a bold claim for a traditionally cautious Japanese firm to make. How will Toyota maintain its lead? Simple. It will offer more hybrids than any other manufacturer, and with more advanced technology, too.

Dombreval talks of having an 11-strong hybrid range – surely enough to make rival designers burst into tears at their drawing boards.

Toyota already builds nine hybrids worldwide, so the two extra models will be all new. Our sources claim that they are called internally Prius A, B and C, and they are expected to land in showrooms in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

Prius A is about Auris-sized; Prius B is a little bigger than the current model; while Prius C is closer in size to the Avensis.

Each will build on the success of the first Prius models, with the emphasis on state-of-the-art technology, spacious cabins and less wacky looks than today’s car.

If Toyota is to be believed, and its track record suggests it should be, the world is about to go hybrid mad.

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