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At a press conference last week, Toyota chief executive officer Akio Toyoda raved that hybrid vehicles have aided survivors of the devastating earthquake that rattled Japan. Toyoda's not-so-subtle message plugged the gas-electric vehicles for their ability to extend the time between fill-ups, pointing out that hybrid owners have written him letters, which Toyoda outlined like this:

Wish you could have a minivan and a hybrid, too? The combination has been available in the Toyota Estima in Japan for six years, and the Union of Concerned Scientists and HybridCenter.org think it's high time this vehicle is available stateside. As part of an Earth Day push, the two organizations have set up an online petition calling on Toyota to make the Estima hybrid available for sale here.

In 2000, the Toyota Estima Hybrid became the first minivan to ever sport the advanced new powertrain technology. Yesterday, Toyota released the fully redesigned version of this family-hauling green machine. Like its predecessor, the new Estima is propelled by the company's Toyota Hybrid System II (THS II) with E-Four. That's a fancy way of saying it has Toyota's proven hybrid system paired with electronic four-wheel-drive. It has the capability to run in all-electric mode under the proper condit