Toyota is planning to sell a plug-in hybrid car in the U.S., Japan and Europe in 2012, targeting sales of 50,000 vehicles a year at 3 million yen ($36,000) each without subsidies, as the automaker strengthens its green lineup to keep pace with growing competition.
Toyota Motor (TM) Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada said Thursday that Toyota is also planning to sell an electric vehicle in 2012 and not just in the U.S. as it had said before, but in Japan and Europe too. Sales in China are also being considered, he told reporters.
But he said electric vehicles will be mainly for short commutes for some time and gasoline-electric hybrids will remain the standard for green cars because drivers won't have to worry about running out of electricity on the road.
His comments show how Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, is banking on hybrids, which switch between a gasoline engine and an electric motor, after the success of its top-selling Prius hybrid.
A plug-in hybrid is cleaner than a regular hybrid because it travels longer as a zero-emission electric vehicle.
"Toyota is working on developing hybrid technology as the core technology of the future," Uchiyamada said at a Tokyo showroom.
Not Behind in Technology
He was at pains to show Toyota isn't lagging in electric car technology, although acknowledged it had fallen behind Japanese rivals Nissan Motor (NSANY) and Mitsubishi Motors (MMTOF) in bringing them to market.
Nissan is delivering the Leaf electric car later this year, and Mitsubishi's iMiEV is already on sale.
"We are not behind in technology at all," he told reporters.
Besides developing an electric car in-house, Toyota is working on an electric sport-utility vehicle with U.S. luxury electric car maker Tesla (TSLA). A concept model which is being shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show is planned for sale in the U.S. in 2012, with a range of 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a single charge.
Toyota's own electric vehicle in the works is based on the iQ ultra-compact car and has a range of 65 miles (105 kilometers) on a single charge.
Given a test drive Thursday, it sped around a short test-course without any problem, making whirring motor noises instead of the usual roar of an engine.
Uchiyamada outlined Toyota's green strategy, stressing that concerns were growing about the environment and the world's oil supply.
Toyota is planning to introduce 11 new hybrid models by the end of 2012, including revamps of existing models, he said.
Still Planning Fuel-Cell Car
Uchiyamada said Toyota was working on more futuristic technology as well. It will start selling a fuel cell hybrid vehicle, which runs on hydrogen, in about 2015 and is aiming for a price under 10 million yen ($122,000) or lower.
Analysts say electric vehicles and other futuristic vehicles will make up a tiny fraction of the auto market for years. Recharging stations will be needed for electric vehicles and hydrogen fueling stations if fuel cells are ever to become practical.
Toyota has sold 2.8 million hybrids around the world since the first-generation Prius went on sale in 1997. It sells more than 7 million autos around the world in a year.
Toyota sorely needs a boost to its image after a series of massive recalls totaling more than 11 million vehicles globally over the last year, mostly in the U.S., for faulty gas pedals, floor mats that can trap accelerators, defective braking and stalling engines.
The maker of the Camry sedan and Lexus luxury model also faces lawsuits in the U.S. over accidents suspected of being related to those defects. Its image, once equated with near impeccable quality, has been badly tarnished, especially after widespread criticism it was slow and reluctant to come forward with the recalls.