CANBERRA – Toyota Motor Co. of Australia Ltd. is launching a A$5 million ($3.6 million) advertising campaign to convince buyers its gas-electric hybrid-powered Prius has moved from science experiment to mainstream entry.

Peter Evans, Toyota Australia senior marketing manager, tells a media briefing that the Prius hasn’t sold well because the car-buying public still thinks it’s a concept car.

Prius to launch in Australia.

Through October, Toyota had sold 175 Priuses this year, one more than in all of 2002. Some 80% of total Australian sales of the first-generation Prius have gone to governmental and non-governmental organizations, says Evans. Toyota wants to raise private sales 50%.

The ad campaign will feature the fuel-economy and low-pollution benefits of the engine.

"We think the vehicle is better than just a government showcase," Evans says.

The Australian price of A$36,990 ($26,795) is A$3,000 ($2,173) less than the first generation, while offering more options. The number of Toyota dealers that can sell the Prius – restricted because of stringent company conditions on service and maintenance – is to be increased to 90 from 49.

Queensland Premier Peter Beattie, meantime, has called for tax breaks to be given to consumers as incentives to buy more fuel-efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles. He is asking the federal government to consider dropping taxes for more energy-efficient cars to both drive sales and cut emission levels.

Beattie made the comments as he announced his government would buy six new Priuses to add to the 62 models it already owns. Toyota also donated a previous-generation Prius to Queensland’s largest automotive training college, the Mt. Gravatt campus of the Moreton Institute, in recognition of Queensland’s support of hybrid power.