Tue, Sep 25, 2012 - Page 15 News List

Toyota prepares to expand its range of hybrid vehicles

NEW MODEL AUTO:The Japan-based car maker plans to tap new markets with a fleet of less environmentally damaging cars which run on electricity and new fuel cells

AP, TOKYO

The Toyota Motor Corp logo is pictured on the engine of a plug-in hybrid vehicle in Tokyo yesterday.

Photo: Reuters

Toyota Motor Corp is boosting its green vehicle lineup, with plans for 21 new hybrids in the next three years, a new electric car later this year and a fuel cell vehicle by 2015 in response to growing demand for fuel efficient and environmentally friendly driving.

Toyota yesterday said it will offer an electric compact called eQ, based on its iQ model, in Japan and the US in December, though the number of the vehicles made will be extremely limited — about 100 for special fleet use, according to the company. The car, which will be called the iQ EV in the US, has a limited cruise range of 100km with a price of ¥3.6 million (US$45,000).

In the US, an electric version of the Rav-4 sport utility model, which Toyota worked on with US electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors, goes on sale this month.

The fuel cell vehicle, which runs on hydrogen to produce electricity, will be offered from 2015. Details for that model were not released.

Toyota’s rivals are working on green offerings, too, such as Nissan Motor Co focusing on its Leaf electric car. However, customers in emerging markets, which are driving growth in demand for autos, are still not as interested in hybrids and other fancy — and expensive — technology.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, the executive overseeing technology and new model development at Toyota, said the long-term potential for fuel cells was great, compared with electric cars, because of greater cruise range and shorter charging time. He said tens of thousands of fuel cell vehicles were likely to get sold in the 2020s.

A good compromise at the moment is the plug-in hybrid, which works as an electric vehicle until the battery runs down, and then switches to its hybrid motor, so there’s less chance of being stranded than with a standard electric car. Toyota has sold 15,600 of its plug-in vehicle since launching it earlier this year.

Although annual hybrid sales were tiny when the Prius first went on sale in 1997, such sales have since grown to more than 1 million a year worldwide, comprising 10 percent of Toyota’s global sales.

In Japan, where green subsidies have been a big plus in recent years, hybrids make up nearly half Toyota’s sales, said Uchiyamada, the engineer known as “the father of the Prius.”

“The public’s consciousness is a lot higher than we ever imagined,” he said.

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