Hybrids were much talked about at New York, but only Toyota showed a second generation of a production gasoline-electric hybrid, the 2004 Prius, which aims to move hybrid vehicles from the green fringe to the mainstream. Riding on a new platform that is about six inches longer, with a commensurate increase in wheelbase, the Prius's new hatchback body offers mid-size accommodations (110 cubic feet of interior space). A new hybrid system teams the familiar 1.5-liter in-line four (with minor increases in power and torque) and a significantly more powerful electric motor (which jumps from 273 to 500 volts). The brawnier electric motor allows the Prius to spend more time running solely on electric power-as does a new, electric-inverter air conditioning system, which works without the aid of the gasoline engine. City/highway combined fuel economy should be in the mid 50-mpg range (up from the high 40s), while the 0-to-60-mph time drops by 2 seconds to the mid 10s. The new car goes on sale this fall, priced close to the current model. Toyota is expecting annual sales to double, to 36,000.
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