They've been something of an oddity for the last few years - either too expensive or too impractical. Not to mention the fact that early versions like the GM EV 1 incorporated the sort of design quirkiness that wasn't exactly everyone's cup of tea. But in the last 12 months it's become clear that hybrid vehicles are about to go from curiosity to the mainstream. This year will see a watershed moment for the technology when the first Australian-built hybrid, the Toyota Hybrid Camry, goes onto the local car market. The car has a 2.4 litre four-cylinder petrol engine and an electric motor generator, plus a hybrid battery that stores electrical energy. Like other hybrids, the car can switch off the petrol engine while stopped at lights or at low speeds, switching to electric power to save fuel. It's claimed that the car could take petrol usage from around 9 litres per 100km to 6 litres.And that's just the start. Not only will Toyota follow-up with other hybrids, but Holden is reportedly planning a hybrid version of an Australian icon - the Commodore.Fuel economy isn't the only thing that's raising eyebrows about the new generation of hybrid cars. The Toyota's third generation Prius, launched last year, has innovations like steering wheel mounted touch controls for radio, air conditioning and to check energy consumption. A Head Up Display (HUD) shows speed and navigation information on the windscreen (on the i-Tech model), and a button on your keychain lets you activate the air conditioning system before you get into the car (without the engine running).The only sticking point now is the price. You'll still pay a premium for a hybrid vehicle, with a new Toyota Prius setting you back more than $30,000 at the time of writing. Still, these cars are getting harder to ignore.
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