Paul Horrell 19 April 2013

Toyota has now sold five million hybrids

But what does it all mean for you? Paul Horrell explains

Prius

So. Toyota, the biggest car company in the world, has announced it has sold five million hybrids. Journalistic tradition dictates that we now help you relate to that number by putting it in context. But we don't know how whether they would reach to the moon if placed end-to-end, or how many times they would fill Wembley Stadium. Whatever, it's good business for Toyota. What does it mean for us?

We asked Karl Schlicht, Toyota and Lexus chief of sales and marketing and product in Europe. He says it's snowballing. Schlicht points out that of that five million in 15 years, 1.2 million were in 2012 alone. That's double the total for any other year.

The Auris and Yaris hybrids are doing massive business, but Toyota is also starting to build more interesting hybrids too. The new Lexus IS300h above, f'rinstance. A car, he says, is influenced by the spirit of the GT86. He cites the rear-drive, and its sporty driving position.

He's also adamant that hybrid does matter in Europe, a market otherwise dominated by diesel. One in six Toyotas sold in Europe in 2012 were hybrids, and this year he expects the proportion to be to be one in five. Two out of every five Yarises are hybrids, and nearly half the Aurises. 'We're at a tipping point in Europe,' he claims, 'And it isn't just because of the Prius.'

The first Prius was a bit of a moonshot when launched 15 years ago. I can't remember many of us thinking it would really catch on. But now it's really affected Toyota's business. The general public think of Toyota, formerly a stick-in-the-mud 'appliance' brand, as a green innovator. 'Hybrids are good for conquest sales for us.'

But in Europe, Lexus has been badly hampered by having no diesels (the old IS220d won't be replaced). Because people in Europe don't want big petrols in their non-sporty executive cars, basically Lexus buyers have just one powertrain choice: the hybrid.

We ask Schlicht why there's only one powertrain in the CT200h, while the Audi A3 and BMW 1-series offer loads of choices, petrol and diesel. 'Basically we don't do diesels well enough to do them better than our hybrids,' he says, bluntly. Japan and especially America – where diesel doesn't really matter – have been the focus. 'We don't have the scale in Europe. We have invested in the US, where we got the return.'

That's changing now. There won't be new Lexus diesels, but there will be more hybrid choices, with luck ore interesting. 'From now on we'll start investing in powerplants for Europe.'

So the hybrid, at least in the medium term, is here to stay. We don't have an official reaction from Clarkson yet, but for you TopGear.commers, is this good news? 

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