Since introducing the first Prius in Japan back in 1997, Toyota Motor Corp. has sold 5 million hybrids worldwide, including 2 million in the U.S., the automaker said Wednesday.
Toyota said the owners of its hybrids have saved more than 3 billion gallons of gasoline compared with vehicles powered by gasoline only. According to Department of Energy estimates, the hybrid vehicles on the road today save nearly 500 million gallons of petroleum annually in the U.S.
"Toyota not only created the hybrid segment, they have consistently dominated it since launching the Prius in the U.S. back in 2000," said Alec Gutierrez, senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
He said the Prius, which was the bestselling vehicle in California last year, narrowly outpacing Honda's Civic, "is the key reason" for Toyota's domination of the hybrid market.
Although Ford Motor Co. is starting to make inroads with its latest hybrid models, including the Fusion and C-max, sales of Toyota vehicles account for about 70% of the U.S. auto industry's total hybrid sales. They also account for 16% of sales at Toyota and Lexus, its luxury division, in the U.S.
In the first quarter of this year, sales of hybrids rose 19% over the same period a year ago, according to Autodata Corp. The data include both conventional hybrid models and plug-ins, such as the Chevrolet Volt, which are rechargeable and can travel for some distance using only electric power before a gas engine kicks in and extends the car's range.
The growth came when sales of all types of autos rose a little more than 6% during the same period.
"Unless disruptive innovations radically change the outlook, by 2040 some 40% to 50% of new car sales will be hybrids," said Jason Kavanaugh, engineering editor for auto information company Edmunds.com.
In the first quarter of this year, hybrids accounted for about 4% of U.S. auto sales, up from about 3% a year ago.
"The first Prius was a surprising success and we never imagined the market would become as vast as it has for the hybrid powertrain," said Bob Carter, Toyota's senior vice president of automotive operations in the U.S.