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Toyota Motor Corp. will become the world’s first automaker to mass-produce and market a hybrid passenger car when it debuts the Prius in Japan later this year.The car, which combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor, will go on sale domestically Dec. 10 and retail for 2.15 million yen, the company said. It utilizes what the company calls the Toyota Hybrid System, which officials say halves carbon dioxide emissions and achieves nearly twice the fuel efficiency of conventional cars.”The Prius is our challenge for technological revolution,” said Toyota President Hiroshi Okuda. “And we would like to present a new value to the auto industry for the upcoming 21st century.”The company has a sales target of 1,000 units per month, but it may increase production if the vehicle proves popular. Okuda said that the Prius’ price tag is low for a hybrid car, which requires a huge amount of developmental costs, and that Toyota hopes the sticker price will help it be accepted by consumers.When starting out or driving at extremely low speeds, the 1.5-liter engine shuts down, giving way to the electric motor, according to Toyota officials. When it reaches a normal driving speed, the gasoline engine kicks in to turn the wheels and generate electricity for the motor.

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