The good times for diesel sales are in decline, with hybrid and petrol continuing to gain ground. Sales of hybrid cars have jumped from 1.5pc of the market last year to 3.5pc so far this year, with petrol sales up 2pc, while diesel sales have dropped from 70pc to 65pc. Toyota led the move to hybrid more than two decades ago, and now 24pc of their sales here are hybrid vehicles - up 12pc from last year.
The Toyota company strategy is to reduce C02 emissions in their range by 90pc from 2010 levels by 2050. This will be achieved by constantly improving their hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, and hydrogen- powered vehicles. The most recent example of this is the new C-HR, which is offered in hybrid mode (or with a 1.2-litre petrol engine) with Yaris, Auris, RAV4, Prius, Prius Plus and Auris Touring all now offering hybrid.
Toyota now has a new offering in the battle to make their cars more environmentally friendly - a plug-in Prius that aims at 1L/100kms (282mpg) with the capacity to travel to travel 63kms on electric (battery) power without sipping from the fuel tank. Ambitious, but in real-world terms, not achievable outside ideal laboratory test conditions.
However, on a drive with a navigator and two suitcases aboard, we travelled 35kms at speeds of up to 100km/h on electric power only, and over 138kms returned 2.7km/100km (105mpg) when the 1.8-litre petrol power cut in to assist the electric motor and continuously put a charge into the battery pack. Clever use of choosing electric mode, electric-and-motor and electric mode, city driving can achieve remarkable fuel returns. The added benefit is that automatic transmission is standard with the hybrid system.
The official C02 emission figure is a mere 22g/km. In fact, driving habits improve behind the wheel of a hybrid: there is more anticipation of the terrain and traffic ahead, and this leads to less violent braking, although braking does help recharge the battery pack. New technology means the battery takes two hours to fully charge on a fast charge connector and three hours on a domestic plug. On the downside, the plug-in version is in reality a four-seater, and the boot now has less capacity because of the big battery pack.
There are three levels of trim, with eight-inch touchscreen, sat-nav, reversing camera, air conditioning and automatic transmission as standard. Entry level price is expected to be about €37,000. The top grade will get leather seats and a solar roof panel which, in ideal weather conditions, can add 5km in electric driving mode during an average day behind the wheel.
Industry analysts believe Toyota plans to offer a full electric car by 2020, when new battery technology is expected to improve range. Not far away is the prospect of a 300km range on electric power, which would make a non-stop drive between the major towns in Ireland a realistic experience.