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Honda launches hybrid Fit to take on Toyota's Prius

Honda Motor on Friday launched a hybrid version of its popular Fit subcompact car in Japan, making it the cheapest petrol-electric car available in the nation.

The Fit Hybrid went on sale with a starting price of 1.59 million yen (19,000 dollars), cheaper than any other hybrid vehicle in Japan. The conventional Fit is priced at about 1.2 million yen.

Honda's Insight hybrid is also priced below the two-million mark, making it the second cheapest in Japan.

The Fit has been launched as a direct competitor to Toyota's Prius, which has been Japan's best selling vehicle since May 2009. The Prius sells for a minimum 2.05 million yen.

Prius sales fell 14.2 percent year-on-year in September, according to the Automobile Dealers Association as government subsidies to encourage the purchase of environmentally friendly vehicles expired.

The Fit Hybrid model runs 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) per litre (0.26 gallons) of gasoline.

First launched in 2001, the car has proved to be a hit, with cumulative sales exceeding 1.5 million in September in Japan alone.

Sales of hybrids have been brisk in recent years because of rising petrol prices and increasing public awareness of global warming.

The new Fit is expected to give a boost to Honda as carmakers face slowing auto sales as a result of the expired subsidy programme.