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Toyota Motor Corp. launched a redesigned Prius in Japan on Monday as part of a drive to spearhead the development of environmentally friendly technology.

The new hybrid compact, which combines a gasoline engine with an electric motor, has improved fuel efficiency of about 15 percent. The Prius can now run for 35.5 km per liter of fuel.

Its electric motor output is 1.5 times greater than that of the previous model, which means motorists can enjoy smoother and more responsive driving.

“I believe that we will see the hybrid vehicle market grow on a global scale, as not only Toyota but also other carmakers develop many new products,” said Toyota President Fujio Cho. “(But) Toyota will lead the market.”

In that regard, an optional piece of electronic equipment can guide drivers pulling into tight parking spaces.

Cho said Toyota plans to launch the model in the United States and Europe in the fall and is eyeing a future launch in China.

Toyota has set a monthly domestic sales target of 3,000 units. Its global sales target for 2004 stands at 76,000 units.

The Prius, which features an engine displacement of 1,500cc, is priced between 2.15 million yen and 2.57 million yen.