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When it was first introduced 15 years ago, even many at Toyota had little faith in the pug nosed Prius. But now the automaker can unequivocally state that it’s no longer a niche product, with sales numbers for the first quarter of 2012 ranking the gasoline-electric hybrid as the world’s third best selling car.

Helped by modest incentives and an increased product line that now includes three additional vehicles (the Prius c, Prius v and Prius plug-in), sales of the Prius in the first three months have doubled to 247,230. The only vehicles to out-sell the Prius are Ford’s Focus at 277,000 units as well as the top-selling Toyota Corolla at 300,800 units.

Sales growth for the car has been big in the U.S., with numbers climbing by 42 percent in Q1. And the Prius’s popularity shows no signs of stopping with sales through April up 56 percent to 86,027 units.

That’s nothing compared to the growth the Prius has seen in its home market of Japan where the new Aqua (sold as the Prius c in North America) has helped sales of the Prius triple to 175,080 units. In total, global Prius sales are up 125 percent.

This news comes as Toyota has announced Prius sales since the car’s introduction recently topped four million units, establishing Toyota as the clear leader in hybrid production. Toyota is also celebrating a return to the top as the world’s largest automaker by volume in Q1.

While the numbers point towards a continued surge for the Prius, that may all change quickly. If gas prices decrease, hybrid sales will take a hit. In addition, incentives in Japan are set to run out in July. Conversely, if gas prices rise even further hybrid sales could continue to rise.

Long term the Prius is likely to continue its steady increase with a recent Consumer Reports poll revealing that fuel economy wasn’t just the number one concern for new car buyers, but that a total of 75% of those surveyed said they would consider an alternative fuel vehicle as their next choice.
Read the complete Prius World's Best Selling Car story at
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