The selection of the Toyota Prius as Car of the Year for 2005 comes as a surprise. Though its sales are growing in Europe, the Prius doesn't exactly dominate the automotive landscape. Its design is distinctive, but doesn't have a lot of emotional appeal. Its fuel economy is impressive in stop-and-go city traffic, but far less dramatic on the highway.
Still, the Prius deserves the award if only to signal that there is a commercially viable alternative to diesel engines.
Diesels are now in more than half the new cars sold in western Europe. That has happened because what was essentially a truck-and-taxi technology has developed into smooth propulsion that rivals traditional gasoline engines.
It is too early to say whether the growth of hybrids will continue. But for now, they offer an exciting new powertrain option with potential for further development.
The Toyota Prius has played a key role in putting it on people's radar screens.