Toyota unveils pint-sized hybrid concept car

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DETROIT (AP) — Toyota unveiled a new hybrid concept car that is smaller than the Prius and geared toward younger buyers, as part of the Japanese automaker’s strategy to expand its lineup of hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles.

Toyota showed off the FT-CH compact car at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit on Monday. The company also confirmed plans to badge future hybrids with the Prius name, expanding the Prius brand into an entire family of hybrid vehicles.

A production version of the FT-CH could be sold under the Prius name, Toyota said.

“The strategy is still taking shape and obviously it will require additional models to qualify as a family,” said Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, a division of Toyota Motor Corp.

Toyota said the FT-CH is 22 inches shorter than the Prius and is lighter and more fuel efficient than the existing hybrid. The car was designed to appeal to younger buyers and was inspired by the retro style of early 8-bit video games popular during the 1980s, the company said.

Toyota said the car — which, as a concept vehicle, has no official timeline for going on sale to the public — underscores the automaker’s strategy to sell a wider variety of hybrids, battery-electric and fuel-cell vehicles over the next several years. Hybrids run alternately on batteries and gasoline.

Toyota said it plans to sell 1 million hybrids per year globally in the early part of this decade by launching eight new hybrids over the next few years. It also plans to offer plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars starting in model-year 2012 and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles in 2015 in its global markets.

Toyota recently launched a global demonstration program of its plug-in hybrid technology involving 600 Prius plug-ins. Starting early this year, Toyota is sending 150 plug-in Priuses powered with lithium-ion batteries — in contrast to the bulkier nickel-metal hydride batteries that currently power hybrids — to the U.S. for testing and demonstration.