next big thing for clean driving
By EIJIRO UENO and TETSUJI INOU
Tuesday 2 January 2001
Toyota Motor Corp expects "hybrids", cars powered
by petrol-electric engines, to become a pillar of
low-pollution transport as air-quality laws get stricter
and demand for fuel efficiency grows, according to
Toyota president Fujio Cho.
The maker of Corolla compacts was the first car
maker to sell a hybrid car, rolling out the Prius
in Japan in 1997.
The company planned to unveil more hybrid models
after it released a version of the Estima mini-van
with a low-pollution, petrol-electric engine early
this year, Mr Cho said.
"We hope to develop two to three hybrid systems
and offer as many models as we can," he said.
The car maker also planned to release hybrids with
bigger engines than the Prius' four-cylinder, 1.5-litre
engine, he said.
Japan's biggest car maker reported last month that
as of November 30 the company had sold more than 50,000
units of the Prius worldwide.
In addition to hybrids, which offer on average twice
the fuel efficiency of cars with standard engines,
Mr Cho said car makers were focusing on small cars
to meet demand for fuel efficiency.
He said the Vitz/Yaris subcompact was the company's
global small-car platform. Toyota will begin assembling
the model at a new plant in Valenciennes, northern
France, this month, mainly for the European market,
where the model is the company's best-seller.
Toyota also plans to develop an efficient small-car
engine in the 800cc to 850cc range with mini-car subsidiary
Daihatsu Motor Co. Daihatsu is 51 per cent owned by
Toyota and is Japan's No. 2 maker of minis after Suzuki
"Daihatsu has the expertise for small cars," said
Mr Cho. "We'll discuss this with them and work out
Car makers are also racing to develop cars powered
by hydrogen fuel cells, another low-pollution technology.
Fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to make electricity
with little other than water vapor as a by-product.
"Reasonably priced fuel cell vehicles will be released
in 2010 at the earliest," Mr Cho said.
For that reason, hybrids are the best option to
meet new environmental regulations.
Toyota, which last year said it would join a fuel
cell research partnership organised by California,
planned to develop a fuel-cell test-car by 2003, Mr
He said Toyota was hoping to work closely with affiliates
such as Daihatsu and Hino Motors, Japan's biggest
truck maker, to offer cleaner vehicles "instead of
forming equity alliances with foreign companies".
As part of efforts to bring those cleaner products
to market, Mr Cho said Toyota could establish a fuel
cell technology planning division and information
technology management division, pooling resources
across its affiliates and group companies.
Toyota shares fell 30 yen (47 cents) on Friday,
finishing the year at 3650yen. The stock dropped 26.3
per cent in the year, matching the 25 per cent slide
in the benchmark Topix Index.