WASHINGTON -- Toyota (IW 1000/8) chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada today challenged automakers to step up sales of hybrids in the United States, calling them "a long bridge" into future vehicles.

"Today I wish to call on the industry to sell five million hybrids in the U.S. by the end of 2016," Uchiyamada said in remarks before the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

Uchiyamada, who pioneered the Prius, forecast that hybrid vehicles would play a larger role than understood at the moment in the development of automotive propulsion systems.

"It's only when we put ourselves under the same kind of intense pressure we faced in developing the Prius that we can achieve great goals," he said. "That's what it takes. I want our industry to achieve this goal."

Uchiyamada was chief engineer of the Toyota team that developed the Prius, the world's first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car, launched in 1997. He became chairman of the Japanese automaker in June, succeeding Fujio Cho.

"Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future," Uchiyamada said. "But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one. There are many more gains we can achieve with hybrids."