DETROIT - Toyota Motor Sales
reinforced its commitment to hybrid technology today, rolling out a compact
hybrid concept vehicle and announcing that it will introduce eight all-new
hybrid models in the next few years.
The concept car, called the FT-CH,
has a wheelbase that's 6 inches shorter than that of the Prius, and an overall
length that is 22 inches shorter. Designed at Toyota's
European Design and Development Center in Nice,
France, the car
is said to be targeted at an inner-city environment, and is therefore sized to
be more nimble and maneuverable than the Prius. If it does reach production,
the vehicle's lighter weight and lower cost would enable Toyota to market it at a younger,
less-affluent buyer demographic.
"It's a package that Toyota
dealers and customers have been asking for," said Jim Lentz, president of
Toyota Motor Sales. Lentz made the announcement to a crowd of more than a
thousand journalists at Detroit's
Cobo Hall, which is hosting the annual North
American International Auto Show here.
Lentz also told the audience that Toyota
is developing a "Prius family" marketing strategy for North
America that will include the launch of eight new hybrid models
over the next few years. The eight-vehicle launch will not include re-designs
of current hybrids. Rather, it will include new dedicated hybrid vehicles and
hybrid-ized versions of existing gasoline-burning cars.
also said it has kicked off a global demonstration program involving 600
plug-in versions of the Prius. Early this year, 150 of the plug-in hybrids will
come to North America, where they will placed
with regional partners for market analysis.
announcements are considered significant because they reinforce the company's
commitment to hybrid technology at a time when some other automakers have begun
to announce rollout of pure, battery-powered electric vehicles. Most notably,
Nissan has said it will soon roll out the battery-powered Leaf electric
vehicle, while Ford has said it will unveil two EVs in the next two years.
To be sure, Toyota
did say it will introduce a small battery-electric vehicle "similar to the GM
EV1" in 2012. "It will be kind of a niche vehicle - a small urban commuter type
of car," said a Toyota
The company's representatives added; however, that Toyota is not aiming for
large production volumes of pure electric vehicles, as Nissan is. Instead, the
vast majority of its efforts will be aimed at hybrid technology. "We're really
committed to having a hybrid version of every car," the spokesman said.
Speaking after today's event, Toyota representatives told Design News that EV battery technology
is still "hideously expensive," which is why the company has targeted hybrids
instead of pure electrics. They estimated that today's EV batteries cost
between $1,000 and $1,200 per kilowatt-hour. At that cost, they said, a large
five-seat sedan with a 200-mile range could employ a battery that costs $50,000
"If you design the battery pack correctly, you could get 200
miles (of range) out of an electric vehicle," said Paul Williamsen, national
manager of Lxus College in Torrance, CA. "The question is, why would you do
that? We think a strong hybrid is more economical and a better choice for the