In line with its establishment of its Eco Cars division, Manchester-based Jeffries Cars has taken on two Toyota Prius models this year, and is about to take delivery of a third.

Director Sarah Jeffries said: 'People are genuinely interested in taking a greener route in Manchester, and there's a lot of interest in hybrid technology and awareness of the fuel and carbon savings possible. That makes it easier for us than it was for companies doing this elsewhere a few years ago. We expect the interest to snowball."

While large numbers of private-hire companies have already taken on the eco-friendly Toyota Prius in cities such as London, where the congestion charge has proved a major incentive, hybrid technology is more of a novelty in Manchester, said Ms Jeffries.

'Passengers love the Prius, and we still get comments when it stops at the lights, the electric motor cuts in and they think it's stalled,' she explained. 'I would say that nine out of 10 of the passengers show interest in the cars.

'Local companies who use our services like the Prius too, because so many of them have their own criteria for cutting down CO2 emissions, and that makes it a useful selling tool for us.

'We recently secured a big NHS contract after scoring points for having the Prius. The contract is shared between four private hire companies but we were the only applicant able to specify lower carbon transport.'

The Prius is also proving popular with drivers. Ms Jeffries commented: 'The drivers really like the cars too, and they've actually become quite competitive in seeing who can get the most miles per gallon out of them. That's good for our costs - and driving carefully also makes them safer, of course.'