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Toyota Introduces Compact Hybrid Concept Car

Toyota Introduces Compact Hybrid Concept Car

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.

Toyota 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.

Toyota's 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 spokesman.

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 or more.

"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 environment."

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