Toyota not only invented the modern hybrid-electric vehicle, but it has sold more hybrid cars than any other automaker.

Now the Japanese company has crossed a new milestone: It has delivered more than 7 million hybrid cars since its first Prius was bought by a Japanese driver in 1997.

The news came via Toyota Division's North American group vice president and general manager, Bill Fay, during a monthly call to go over sales results that was held Wednesday:

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"When worldwide September hybrid sales are totaled, they should show Toyota has now sold more than 7 million hybrids around the world," Fay said.

2012 Toyota Prius V

2012 Toyota Prius V

He called the total "an incredible accomplishment in little more than 15 years."

[UPDATE: This article was first published on October 3, 2014, and Toyota made it official in a press release issued on October 14. The company said its total global hybrid sales total had crossed 7 million during September, the last million being added in only nine months. Toyota said its products are 70 percent of all hybrids sold globally.]

The very first Toyota Prius was sold only in Japan from 1997 to 2000. An updated version of that car went on sale in the U.S. in 2000.

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The company has since sold almost 4 million Prius models--it crossed 3 million Prius sales in July 2013--and it has boosted its total from 6 million to 7 million in just nine months.

Meanwhile, that single Prius model has now become a family that includes the well-known Liftback, a plug-in version of that vehicle, a subcompact Prius C hatchback, and the larger Prius V wagon.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, Catskill Mountains, NY, Oct 2012

Toyota is now preparing for the launch of the fourth-generation 2016 Prius, which is said to be sportier, more stylish, and to offer two battery packs, one delivering a combined rating of 55 miles per gallon and the other a 60-mpg rating.

MORE: Why The 2013 Nissan Leaf Is Really A 2001 Toyota Prius

We'll learn more about that 2016 Toyota Prius over the next year or so.

Still, Toyota can revel in the fact that it remains comfortably on top of the hybrid market even as virtually every other large automaker has begun to offer at least some hybrid models of its own.

Now, about those plug-in hybrids ....


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