It's important to have a broad perspective in the auto business - tunnel-vision has been one of the biggest criticism of the American automakers. But seeing beyond the trees of economic meltdown to view the forest of the future industry is easier said than done. Toyota, however, is demonstrating its green-thinking by accelerating plans to start global trials of 500 plug-in hybrids by the end of the year.

The cars will be leased to government and commercial fleets, with 200 set to stay in Japan, a further 150 headed to Europe and the final 150 reserved for the U.S. market. The Prius plug-in hybrids are already averaging 65mpg in the combined cycle during initial testing - that's a 30% improvement over the standard 2010 Prius, recently certified as the most efficient hybrid in America.

"We have to look beyond the current financial crisis. We have to focus on R&D for today and the future," Toyota Europe CEO Tadashi Aarashima told Automotive News.

Emissions rules, fuel pricing and technology cost are all pointing toward hybrid success in the future, says Arashima, but surprisingly Toyota itself doubts the widespread acceptance of plug-in hybrids. Furthermore, some are arguing plug-in hybrids may be too expensive to justify, though Toyota's tack seems to be headed in the right direction.