(Adds U.S. names of vehicles, background)
NEW YORK, July 26 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp plans to double the number of its eco-friendly hybrid models to six by the end of 2003 to cement its lead in the growing field of low emission vehicles, the Nihon Keizai Shimbun's online Saturday edition said.
Toyota, Japan's largest automaker, will release in the fall a hybrid gas-electric version of its 2-liter Crown sedan and will later add hybrid models of the Harrier sport-utility vehicle, along with its recently debuted Alphard minivan, the paper said.
The hybrid version of the Harrier, a popular model known as Lexus RX300 in the United States, will be exported to U.S. dealers, the report said.
A spokesman at Toyota America said nothing has been decided yet.
Unlike pure electric cars, hybrids do not need to be plugged in to be recharged. But they are more expensive than gasoline cars, with the Estima hybrid costing some 500,000 yen ($4,209) more than a gasoline-powered Estima.
Toyota, which last August debuted a 3-liter hybrid Crown, or Camry in the United States, will market the 2-liter hybrid Crown mainly to government and municipal offices that are increasingly replacing their cars with low-emission vehicles, the paper said.
Without citing sources, the report said Toyota will likely keep the price of the new hybrid Crown only 150,000 yen higher than the gasoline-powered model.
Since the automaker pioneered the way with the world's first hybrid car Prius in 1997, Toyota has sold 30 percent of a total 100,000 hybrid cars in overseas markets, the paper said.
Honda Motor Co is the only other automaker so far to mass-market hybrid vehicles -- the two-seater Insight and a recently launched hybrid version of the Civic compact.
Toyota enjoys a 90-percent share of the global market for eco-friendly vehicles and hopes to triple annual production of hybrid cars to 300,000 units in 2005, the report said.