When Harrison Ford drove a Toyota Prius to the Oscars in 2003, hybrids still seemed a bit of a joke.
had been selling dismally, and the awkward-looking Prius was getting creamed by sales of huge SUVs like
. But last summer, Toyota couldn't fill its suddenly spiraling Prius orders. Consumers found themselves on months-long waiting lists, and the carmaker was forced to increase production by 5,000 cars a month. Now manufacturers such as General Motors are chasing Toyota's leadership position, but it might take years for them to catch up. In the meantime, although Ford's
hit the market first, Toyota will release a hybrid version of the
Lexus RX 330
in early 2005, to be followed by a green version of the
. These are big, heavy seven-seater SUVs, and they'll have V-6s teamed with electric engines. Time will tell how much gas is really likely to be saved when pushing around 4,000-pound monsters. But if demand remains steady (and it should, unless somebody has some bright ideas about solving the problems in the Middle East), Toyota says it may offer hybrid versions of all its models within the next two years.