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Fed: Demand for hybrid cars steadily growing

By Bonny Symons-Brown
06 Jan 2009 4:52 PM

SYDNEY, Jan 6 AAP - Sales of environmentally friendly petrol-electric hybrid vehicles are steadily increasing in Australia, new figures show.

Sales data released on Tuesday by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries shows 5,042 hybrid cars were sold in 2008, up two per cent on the previous year.

While hybrid sales accounted for only 0.5 per cent of total vehicles sold across the country last year, the popularity of green cars is growing.

"They're still a small part of the market, but they will grow over time," FCAI chief executive Andrew McKellar told reporters in Sydney.

"I think what we will see in the years ahead is that brands will bring a whole range of new technologies into the marketplace.

"We'll see more hybrids, we'll see electric vehicles coming into the market, we'll see greater use of biofuels.

"The industry is extremely conscious of improving its environmental performance and reducing carbon emissions in the future."

Toyota's Prius model posted the strongest sales growth of any hybrid vehicle on the local market in 2008, with a record 3,413 sold, almost 7.5 per cent higher than 2007.

This figure also accounted for more than two-thirds of all hybrids in Australia sold last year.

Toyota Australia's senior executive David Buttner said the Prius had been a "phenomenon" in Australia.

A new-generation Prius will be unveiled next week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, before going on sale in Australia in the third quarter of 2009.

The company's luxury-brand Lexus, currently available in three models with petrol and hybrid variants, will also launch its first dedicated hybrid model at the event.

"Lexus hybrid sales are continuing to increase as a proportion of sales. The only challenge that we face is that demand is constantly outstripping supply," Lexus Australia chief executive John Roca told AAP.

"If we were supplied more, we'd sell more."

The Honda Civic Hybrid is facing a similar supply squeeze, with all 813 vehicles snapped up by mostly private buyers last year.

"People who are environmentally aware, who want to do something about CO2 emissions, who want to demonstrate a new way of motoring to their friends and family - these are the people that are buying these cars," Honda Australia senior director Lindsay Smalley told AAP.

Honda will reveal its first dedicated hybrid, Insight 2, in the US later this year.