Toyota Motor Corp. said Wednesday it will lease approximately 500 plug-in hybrid vehicles worldwide which are based its the third-generation Prius starting at the end of this year.

The leasing of 200 vehicles will begin in Japan but they will also be introduced in the United States (approximately 150 vehicles) and in Europe (more than 150 vehicles including 100 in France). The largest Japanese automaker is also considering introducing the cars in the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany.

The vehicles - able to operate either as electric cars or a conventional hybrid - will be equipped with a lithium-ion battery that can be charged via external power sources and would be the first time the automaker employs this technology for a vehicle's propulsion.

TMC believes that, in response to the diversification of energy sources, plug-in hybrid vehicles are currently the most suitable environmentally considerate vehicles for widespread use, the company said in a statement today.

In Japan, the cars will be leased to government ministries, local governments and corporations, Toyota said in a statement. This is a move by the company to promote widespread use of cars expected to reduce petroleum consumption, carbon dioxide emissions and to help diversify energy sources.

Toyota said it was using its hybrid technologies to develop the next-generation of cars, not only plug-in hybrid cars but also electric vehicles and fuel-cell hybrid vehicles with the goal to achieve sustainable mobility.

Despite the economic downturn Toyota is boosting its production of the third generation Prius by 20 percent, broadcaster NHK reported last month. The company has received more than 110,000 orders for the car so far.