Toyota Motor Corp, the world's largest automaker by market value, plans to double the number of models that use hybrid engines to six by about 2006, including sport-utility vehicles, president Fujio Cho said.
Toyota, which has sold 140,000 cars with engines driven by a combination of gas and electricity since 1997, plans to release a larger, faster and cleaner version of the Prius hatchback later this year.
"We will release hybrid sport-utility vehicles in the next two to three years," Cho said in a television interview at Toyota's fifth environmental forum in Tokyo.
The maker of the Harrier/RX330 sport-utility needs to expand its model range and cut prices to attract more customers in the US$2.5 billion hybrid vehicle market, which Credit Suisse First Boston Japan Inc expects to triple by 2006.
The Prius now costs about US$3,000 more than a gasoline-engine car.
"To make their green cars successful there are two main objectives, which are meeting emission regulations and offering lower prices," said Masayuki Kubota, who helps manage the equivalent of US$8.5 billion at Daiwa SB Investments Ltd.
Once they are met, sales of hybrids will surge," Kubota said.
Toyota, which wants to raise its global share to 15 percent early next decade from 10 percent in part by offering customers more hybrid models, was the first automaker to release autos with gasoline-electric engines for commercial sale, starting with the Prius in 1997.
The new Prius is expected to go about 4.41L/100km for average city and highway driving, an increase from 5.06L/100km in the current version.
Toyota's release of gasoline-electric sport-utilities may give it a promotional edge over rivals in a vehicle class that's drawn criticism from environmentalists for wasting energy.
The world's third-largest automaker by sales will continue to increase profits from hybrid cars, Cho said, without providing detail. He said the automaker is ready to start installing hybrid systems in other models.
"We now have three hybrid models and in the next two to three years, we will probably have about double that," Cho said.
Toyota probably needs to sell at least 300,000 units a year to make its hybrid project profita-ble, according to Koji Endo, an analyst at Credit Suisse First Boston Japan Inc. "It will help Toyota if it offers a wider range of models to be able to supply a variety of customers."
He estimates the owner of a mid-sized hybrid, driving about 3,000km in the city and highway a year, may save about Japanese Yen 3.5 million yen (US$29,746) in a four-year period.
Toyota sells three hybrids including the Prius sedan, Estima minivan and Crown luxury car. Its gasoline-electric system emits as much as 40 percent less carbon dioxide than traditional internal-combustion engines.
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