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Prius pill for parking pain

Tokyo, Sept. 1 (Reuters): A car that can park itself without the driver having to touch the steering wheel, said by maker Toyota Motor Corp to be a world first, went on sale in Japan today.

Toyota’s new hybrid gasoline-electric Prius sedan uses electrically operated power steering and sensors that help guide the car when reversing into parking spaces.

Toyota president Fujio Cho sat in the driver’s seat at a demonstration laid on for the press, surprising reporters by holding his hands up as the car quickly parked itself.

“I forgot to put on the brake,” Cho said. “But it’s easy.”

The new Prius five-seat passenger model is said by Toyota to be more fuel-efficient and cheaper than its predecessors.

Rivals General Motors Corp and Ford Motor Co will launch their first hybrids later this year.

Toyota said it expects to sell 76,000 new Prius worldwide in 2004, counting on growing demand for environment-friendly cars.

The sales target is more than double the annual figure for the Prius for the past two years of around 28,000 units. Toyota, the world’s third-largest auto maker, has sold about 120,000 of the cars since its launch in December 1997.

“Development of eco-friendly cars is a key to our future growth strategy,” Cho said.

Toyota aims to sell 36,000 units at home, 35,000-36,000 in the US and 4,000-5,000 in rest of the world next year, he said.

The new model sells for 2.15 million yen ($18,430) in Japan, against 2.18 million yen previously.

The intelligent park assist system is offered as an option, at an additional cost of 230,000 yen.

Toyota has set itself a goal of producing 300,000 of the eco-friendly hybrid vehicles a year by 2005 or 2006.

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