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Toyota's car for the rich and powerful recast as a hybrid

First all-new Century in 21 years released in Japan

The Toyota Century is the ride of choice for many Japanese VIPs. (Photo by Koji Uema)

NAGOYA, Japan -- Toyota Motor has fully redesigned its Century luxury sedan for the first time since 1997, this time as a hybrid vehicle.

The all-new Century launched Friday is priced at 19.6 million yen ($178,000), higher than the most expensive model under Toyota's luxury Lexus brand. The Century is sold mainly in Japan, whereas Lexus is mostly aimed at overseas markets.

Launched in 1967, the Century is often used to chauffeur members of the Imperial family and corporate executives. About 40,000 units have been sold over the years, 90% for government and corporate use. It is emblazoned with a handcrafted golden phoenix in place of the regular Toyota logo.

This third generation of the Century has a fuel economy of 13.6km per liter, 80% higher than the previous nonhybrid model. Its 5-liter engine and a separate motor also make it the most powerful vehicle built by the Japanese automaker with a combined 431 horsepower.

The interior is hand-fitted with sound-proofing material to improve rider comfort. "It runs so smoothly that you can read a newspaper while it's in motion and easily have a conversation inside even at high speeds," a Toyota representative said. Legroom in the backseat was expanded by 95 millimeters, and the car is also outfitted with a 20-speaker entertainment system.

There are seven layers of paint on the exterior, which skilled technicians spend 40 hours turning into a mirror-like finish. Because of the labor-intensive manufacturing process, it takes about 20 days to produce one of the cars.

Toyota has received pre-orders for 316 units, and aims to sell about 50 a month. The cars will be produced at a plant in Shizuoka Prefecture.

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