Toyota vows plug-in hybrid by 2010

Toyota is introducing a plug-in hybrid with next-generation lithium-ion batteries in Japan, the U.S. and Europe by 2010, under a widespread green strategy outlined Wednesday. ( AP )

The ecological gas-electric vehicles, which can be recharged from a home electrical outlet, will target leasing customers, Toyota Motor Corp. said. Such plug-in hybrids can run longer as an electric vehicle than regular hybrids, and are cleaner.

Lithium-ion batteries, now common in laptops, produce more power and are smaller than nickel-metal hydride batteries used in hybrids now.

The joint venture that Toyota set up with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., which makes Panasonic products, will begin producing lithium-ion batteries in 2009 and move into full-scale production in 2010, Toyota said.

Toyota also said it's setting up a battery research department later this month to develop an innovative battery that can outperform even that lithium-ion battery.

Japan's top automaker, which leads the industry in gas-electric hybrids, has said it will rev up hybrid sales to 1 million a year sometime after 2010.

Hybrids reduce pollution and emissions that are linked to global warming by switching between a gas engine and an electric motor to deliver better mileage than comparable standard cars. Their popularity is growing amid soaring oil prices and worries about global warming.

"Without focusing on measures to address global warming and energy issues, there can be no future for our auto business," Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters at a Tokyo hall.

He said developing breakthrough technology was critical to allow Toyota and other automakers to continue to grow while avoiding damage to the environment.

The Prius, which has been on sale for more than a decade, recently reached cumulative sales of 1 million vehicles. When including other Toyota hybrids, the company said it sold 1.5 million hybrids so far around the world.

Toyota said it is also working on fuel cell vehicles, which produce no pollution by running on the energy produced when hydrogen combines with oxygen in the air to produce water.

It is also improving mileage of all its models, including gasoline engine and clean diesel vehicles, it said.

The company plans to set up more environmentally friendly factories that will produce fewer carbon gas emissions and develop production techniques that require less energy, using solar energy and planting trees, Watanabe said.

On Tuesday, Toyota said it will start making the Camry hybrid in Australia and Thailand as part of its efforts to step up production of "green" cars around the world.

The two plants were only Toyota's second and third overseas production point for the Camry hybrid after its Kentucky plant in the U.S. The only other nation where Toyota manufactures its hybrids besides Japan is China.

Toyota, close to overtaking General Motors Corp. as the world's No. 1 automaker, faces competition from rivals, which are also all working on ecological technology.

For 2010, General Motors is planning a Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric vehicle, while Nissan Motor Co. is planning electric vehicles for the U.S. and Japan. Honda Motor Co. is also developing new hybrid models, targeting sales of 500,000 hybrids a year sometime after 2010.

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