The number of Toyota hybrids sold has passed the three million mark, the Japanese automaker announced March 8.

Toyota, which produces the best-selling Prius hybrid, said that 3.03 million hybrid vehicles had been sold worldwide as of February 28, leading to approximately 18 million fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions thanks to the vehicles' efficient gas-electric engines.

The company said that it believes hybrid technology is now beginning to enter the mainstream, a development for which it can take much, if not most, of the credit.

The Prius, introduced in 1997 as the world's first mass-produced hybrid vehicle, became the world's best-selling hybrid vehicle, winning the affections of Leonardo DiCaprio, Cameron Diaz and several other members of the Hollywood elite when it was introduced in the US in 2000.

Since then, it has remained a firm favorite with green motorists all over the world, and the best-selling car in Japan, despite several other makers getting into the hybrid game.

With competition from the likes of Ford, General Motors and Honda increasing, Toyota has widened its product range to include vehicles such as the Camry Hybrid and the Lexus LS600h and CT200h, although the Prius still accounts for over two thirds of all of the hybrids Toyota has sold.

At recent auto shows in Detroit and Geneva, the automaker unveiled new Prius variants - dubbed Prii - designed to cater to families and urban drivers and expand the vehicle's potential market.

Toyota has also announced plans for an electric vehicle to compete with the likes of Nissan, although its commitment to the hybrid technology it helped pioneer doesn't seem to be wavering in the face of all-electric models - the automaker says it will launch a further ten new hybrids by the end of next year.

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