Positive Environment News

Toyota Says Next-Generation Prius on Track

Date: 11-Sep-07
Country: US
Author: Kevin Krolicki

"I know there's a lot of speculation in the United States
that we're delaying the Prius because of battery development
issues," Toyota research and development chief Kazuo Okamoto
told Reuters. "That's not the case."

Okamoto said he could not comment on the planned timetable
for the launch of the redesigned Prius.

Auto analysts have expected a redesigned version of the
market-leading hybrid to go on sale in the United States during
the 2010 or 2011 model years.

Okamoto, who was speaking on the sidelines of a briefing
for financial analysts in New York, also said it would be
difficult for Toyota to match GM's planned time-table for
launching a plug-in hybrid by 2010.

"We could have vehicles on the road in a test phase but
production by that point would be difficult," he said.

Okamoto said Toyota will use its existing hybrid system as
it looks to build a commercial version of plug-in vehicles it
has begun to test in the United States and Japan.

The decision to use a modified Prius-system for the new car
will mean a smaller battery that gives the vehicle a relatively
shorter range in electric-only mode.

"The plug-in will be an extension of the system we're using
with the Prius," he said. "We see some advantages. For
instance, we can add trunk space and have a lighter vehicle."

GM, which is on the brink of being overtaken by Toyota as
the global sales leader, this year announced plans to build the
Chevrolet Volt, a car designed to run on electricity alone for
up to 40 miles.

Environmental advocates have been pressing automakers to
roll out such plug-in vehicles that would be capable of
recharging at standard electric outlets and carry an on-board
combustion engine to provide power for longer-haul driving.

TOYOTA: BEST, IF NOT FIRST

The current generation of hybrid vehicles, including the
Prius, uses nickel-metal hydride batteries for power at low
speeds and in stop-and-go traffic, delivering higher fuel
economy.

GM showed off a concept version of the Chevrolet Volt in
January and has set 2010 as a target for production.

Toyota's North American sales chief Jim Lentz said Toyota
was willing to be beaten to the market for a plug-in vehicle if
that meant building a better vehicle.

"It's important for Toyota to be first," he told Reuters.
"While we'd love to be first, we're determined to be best."

Toyota will turn to lithium-ion batteries for its
still-developing plug-in vehicle, Okamoto said.

But he said that kind of battery, now widely used in
electronics and cell phones, still needs development before it
meets Toyota's standards for use in vehicles.

GM has not said where it will build the Volt. Toyota's
Prius is assembled in Japan, near its headquarters in Aichi
prefecture.

Toyota expects to sell 1 million hybrid vehicles per year
by early next decade and is relying on the technology to boost
fuel efficiency across its vehicle line-up.

Lentz said Toyota expected to sell about 250,000 hybrids in
the United States this year, giving it about 80 percent share
in that segment.

"The demand still far outstrips our ability to build,"
Lentz said, noting that Toyota had less than 10 days supply of
the existing Prius in August.

That compared to an average industry-wide inventory level
closer to 60 days supply of sales.

Separately, Okamoto said Toyota would bring back a sports
car to its US vehicle line-up, but declined to provide
further detail.

The automaker retired its MR-S sports model and its sporty
Celica over the past two years, leaving it without a product in
a segment.
(Reporting by Kevin Krolicki)

Reuters
© Thomson Reuters 2007 All rights reserved

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