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Toyota Motor Corp. has set a goal of selling 300,000 gas-electric hybrid vehicles worldwide by the end of 2005, but production capacity may be a factor, Toyota president Fujio Cho said...

Japan's No. 1 automaker remained bullish on prospects for hybrids even as Toyota and others invest billions on technology for hydrogen fuel cell cars and trucks. But experts say road-ready hydrogen-powered vehicles are at least a decade away.

Toyota sold 53,293 hybrid vehicles worldwide in 2003 and announced Tuesday it was boosting monthly production of its hybrid sedan, the Prius, from 10,000 to 15,000 a month in 2005 to meet global demand. Toyota also plans to introduce two hybrid sport utility vehicles early next year - the Toyota Highlander and Lexus RX400H.

Ford Motor Co. is scheduled to begin selling a hybrid version of its Escape SUV this summer. Ford has said the hybrid system in the front-wheel-drive Escape allows the vehicle to get 35 to 40 miles per gallon in city driving, compared with 20 miles per gallon in a 2005 Escape with a V6 engine. It plans another hybrid SUV and midsize sedan in the next few years.

Also, Honda is set to introduce a hybrid version of its popular Accord sedan this fall.

U.S. registrations for hybrid vehicles rose to 43,435 last year, a 25.8 percent increase from 2002, according to recent figures from R.L. Polk & Co.

Since 2000, hybrid sales in the United States have grown at an average annual rate of 88.6 percent, Polk said, but they account for only a fraction of total vehicles sold. Full-year U.S. sales for 2003 were 16.7 million.

Toyota sold 1.86 million vehicles in the United States last year - 6.3 percent more than the year before - but Prius sales accounted for only 24,627.
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