Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Onward to a hybrid future at Toyota

Three in 10 cars sold by Toyota Motor a decade from now will be low-emission, petrol-electric hybrids, a top executive at the Japanese carmaker said yesterday.

Toyota, the leader in hybrids with its trendsetting Prius, has vowed to build petrol-electric versions of all its vehicles by 2020, but it had not previously said how many of the vehicles it expected to sell.

Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota executive vice-president in charge of product development, disclosed the estimate at the start of the Tokyo Motor Show.

Toyota and others are showing off a range of low-emission vehicles intended to appeal beyond their familiar niche of environmentally conscious mid-range buyers.

In contrast to his bullish view on hybrids, Mr Uchiyamada said he did not expect pure electric cars - which are being heavily promoted at the Tokyo show by rival Nissan Motor - to catch on in the next few years.

He cited high production costs and a lack of infrastructure for recharging the relatively short-range vehicles.

Carlos Ghosn, Nissan chief executive, has said pure electrics such as his company's recently developed Leaf five-door are likely to make up 10 per cent of industry-wide sales by 2020.

Mr Uchiyamada said: "We don't think electric vehicles will spread that fast."

For Toyota, the Prius and other hybrids represent about 8 per cent of sales, by far the largest proportion in the industry.

The carmaker has sold 2m hybrids since it launched the Prius in 1997, a number that would be easily eclipsed each year if sales reached 30 per cent of its overall turnover.

At the Tokyo car show, Toyota is highlighting a larger, more upmarket version of the Prius, called the Sai, which it plans to begin selling in Japan in December, as well as its sporty Lexus LF-Ch hybrid five-door.

Honda, Japan's largest producer after Toyota, is also stretching the hybrid genre with a version of its CR-Z hybrid sports coupé, which it plans to begin selling in the US next year.

The Tokyo show is an almost all-Japanese affair this year after US and European carmakers pulled out to save money amid the downturn.

Foreign carmakers control less than a tenth of the Japanese market, making the show an easy target for cost-cutting managers.

Observers said that even the Japanese contingent seemed to have toned down the usual line-up of abstract, futuristic offerings that have made the event a showcase for designers' whims.

Ray Wert, editor of Jalopnik, the US-based motor blog, said: "I miss concepts for concepts' sake, but no one can afford to do that any more."

The show nonetheless highlighted the sharp differences that exist between carmakers over the expected pace of the adoption of technologies, particularly those for reducing output of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

While big carmakers are researching a range of low-emission drives, from "plug-in" hybrids to pure electrics to hydrogen fuel cells, they have varied in the investments they have put into commercialising those systems in the next few years. Toyota, for example, is showing a tiny pure electric urban commuter, the FT-EV II, which it plans to start selling in 2012.

But Mr Uchiyamada said that probably only "a few thousand" would be made annually at first.

Nissan, by contrast, hopes to be producing 200,000 Leafs a year by then.

Not all the offerings in Tokyo were defined by pragmatism and ecological virtue. Lexus unveiled the LF-A, a two-seat supercar priced at $375,000 whose 4.8-litre engine can blast-fire it to speeds of up to 325kph. Toyota began taking orders yesterday for the 500 units it says it will produce between December next year and 2012.
Source:[ft.com]

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