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Car manufacturer coy on plans for Prius 'family'

The Japan headquarters of Toyota Motor Corp. has declined to comment on reports out of the United States that two new cars under the Prius brand will be rolled out next year.

Media reports suggested that dealers had been briefed at their annual meeting in Las Vegas by the US arm of the auto giant that a Prius station wagon will hit the road next summer and be followed by a plug-in version of the hugely popular hybrid vehicle that can travel 48 km on a single charge later in the year.

Toyota has stated in the past that it fully intends to increase its range of hybrid vehicles but that these reports may be a little premature.

"I understand that there were a couple of concept cars on display for the US dealers but I know that Toyota President Akio Toyoda did not mention plans to release additions to the Prius family at that meeting," Paul Nolasco, a spokesman for the company in Tokyo, told Relaxnews.

"Having said that, we are definitely going to increase the number of hybrid models that we produce, although whether they will be part of the Prius range or completely new models, I really cannot comment," he said.

Toyota recently announced that cumulative worldwide sales of the Prius - the world's first mass-produced, gasoline-electric hybrid vehicle - had surpassed the 2 million mark. The cars are available in more than 70 countries and regions and are particularly popular in Japan and North America.

The third generation of the vehicle was released in 2009, 12 years after the first Prius rolled off the production lines, and has the world's best fuel efficiency and a driving performance on par with a vehicle equipped with a conventional 2.4-litre engine.

Toyota estimates that Prius vehicles have contributed to a reduction of 11 million tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and aims to sell more than 1 million hybrid vehicles a year before the end of this decade.

The company has not had things all its own way, however, and was damaged by a series of recalls of its vehicles over the last year, including a problem with the antilock braking system in the Prius.

Other car manufacturers are also looking to step up their presence in the environment-friendly auto market, with Mitsubishi Motors Corp. announcing that its has begun production of its i-MiEV electric vehicle for export to Europe at its plant in Okayama Prefecture, while Honda Motor Co. released its gas-electric hybrid Fit last week in a move that may well bring down prices in the sector.