Toyota's new Prius "c", a petrol-electric hatchback that's a little bigger than the conventional Yaris, makes the strongest case yet for hybrid power.

It might even be Toyota's most practical car, for now. The company plans more hybrids, many of them plug-ins that offer a range of around 20km on electric power only .

The first for New Zealand will be the Prius, in 2015. Toyota has been trialling plug-in versions of the current third-generation Prius, the big brother to the "c" model launched here this week.

Tests over the past couple of years show average fuel use of 3.15 litres/100km (90mpg), with a best of 1.6 litres/100km (176mpg) and a worst of 4.7 litres/100km (60mpg).


The plug-in Prius test car has a range of 600km and the battery pack takes an hour to charge, says Toyota New Zealand.

Toyota describes hybrids as a "bridge to the future" where electric vehicles will dominate cities, hybrids the passenger car middle ground, and hydrogen-power the bus, truck and SUV segments.

But there's a problem with hybrids. The battery technology requires rare-earth minerals, of which China has 97 per cent of world output.

China restricts exports of the minerals. Foreign companies reportedly pay up to twice as much as Chinese firms for rare earth metals.

This week, the United States, Europe and Japan joined forces against China's restrictions.

China says the export curbs are necessary to control environmental problems caused by rare-earth mining and to preserve supplies of an exhaustible natural resource.

But the US, Europe and Japan says China has failed to prove its curbs helped conserve resources, cut pollution or improve public health.

Toyota already has a task force looking for rare-earth supplies outside China.