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Toyota Prius Makes The Leap From Eco-Market Niche To Mainstream Powerhouse

With gas prices soaring and looking as if they’re not going to make a serious decline anytime soon, hybrid vehicles are steadily strengthening their grasp on the auto market.  At the forefront of sales is Toyota, whose Prius was the first mass-produced car to break into hybrid territory 15 years ago, upon which it quickly became the car of choice among eco-conscious drivers. 

Now it looks like the maverick eco-car has officially moved from the hybrid niche into the automotive mainstream, with the announcement that it’s now the third best-selling car in the world.  According to Bloomberg News, in the first quarter of 2012 a record 247,230 Prius models were sold worldwide.  That puts the eco-friendly Prius right behind the world’s top selling gasoline models, the Toyota Corolla at 300,800 in sales and the Ford Focus at 277,000.  Few would have thought this massive rise to the top of the auto market would be possible when the oddball eco-car came on the scene in 1997.

Toyota’s expansion of Prius designs to give drivers more versatility has something to do with its increase in popularity.  The Prius MPV was launched in 2011, giving drivers a bump in size with 50% more cargo room.  The Prius V compact minivan also came out in 2011, affording drivers more interior space with a roomier design.

Also figuring into the bump in sales is the fact that Japanese drivers began receiving a tax incentive to purchase hybrid vehicles in 2012. Increasingly high fuel prices in the U.S. are no doubt helping to power Prius popularity, too.

Prius’s move from the niche hybrid market to mainstream sales is good news, not only for Toyota, which also just launched a new hybrid Avalon model, but for alternative vehicles in general. Prius’s rise to the top was gradual but steady, which is a good sign for the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf, which have so far edged into the hybrid market at a tortoise pace.