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Toyota NA President: Toyota Pursuing Plug-in Hybrid; Considering Flex-Fuel

In a speech before the National Press Club in Washington, DC, Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America said that Toyota is pursuing a plug-in hybrid vehicle. He also said that the company is strongly considering introducing flex-fuel vehicles for the US.

These remarks came as confirmation of some of the product directions suggested by Toyota’s global president, Katsuaki Watanabe earlier this year. (Earlier post.)

Press noted that since half of all the vehicles bought by Americans are trucks, vans or SUVs, the challenge is to find new ways to make all vehicles more efficient.

We can’t disregard the needs of our earth, nor can we afford to ignore the needs of our customers.

He said automakers must strike a balance in their line-ups from big trucks and SUVs to gas/electric hybrids, clean diesels, flex-fuel vehicles, plug-in hybrids and eventually hydrogen fuel cells.

On hybrids, Press stressed the importance of moving technology forward. Toyota is working toward reducing the size of components by 75% to reduce the extra cost of the hybrid system the better to offer hybrid options throughout its entire lineup of cars and trucks.

Toyota is not backing off its strong commitment to hybrids. We know they are absolutely essential to the future success of this industry no matter what fuel we use or cars we drive. Americans realize hybrids are a simple way to make an important difference in curtailing foreign oil dependence, air pollution and greenhouse gases, all at once.

Press challenged automakers to work with government to set “reasonable” goals to improve fuel economy standards and reduce greenhouse gases in a way that doesn’t severely damage the health of the auto industry, which he said is “one of America’s most vital industries.”

I believe the time is right to enlist the immense talent and might of our industry to help solve some of the key issues resulting from a car-loving world, including oil dependency, air pollution, traffic accidents and global warming.

Press said that the US automotive industry is strong, and predicted that US sales would total about 17 million units this year, making 2006 one of the top sales years ever.

Here in the US, business is steady, and as America’s population approaches 300 million the future is full of promise. The US auto industry is coming off its third best year in history and sales so far this year are nearly on the same pace.

Challenges remain, of course, volatile gas prices, rising interest rates and increasing raw material costs, but overall the industry is successfully responding to the market and is still growing.

He also noted that as automakers continue to sell vehicles on a global basis they would continue to form global alliances.



Cute aspects of this speech include:

1. Giving the "needs of our earth" and the "needs of our customers [for trucks, vans and SUVs, if context provides a clue]" equal rhetorical weight.

2. Going on the defensive where it would seem (based on public information) that there is no need for the defensive at all: "Toyota is not backing off its strong committment to hybrids." Did anyone say that they were? Does Mr. Press know of reasons why we should worry that they will, even if such reasons are not public?

3. Rhetorically making Toyota a part of the "US auto industry." To a certain extent it admittedly is: It sells plenty of cars here, and even builds a good number in its American factories. But we all know that the traditional meaning of that term refers to American-based auto companies (Ford, GM and Chrysler), which have a qualitatively different relationship to this country. Toyota alone is not on the hook for the retirement pay and health benefits of something like 1.1 million Americans. GM is. SEE:

I had kind of liked Toyota, but this speech bothers me more than I had expected it to.


I'm just glad to hear confirmation that PHEV is on the list.

Ron Fischer

NBK, Your item 1 conflict represents two sides of the car/truck customer base. Tough to fully satisfy one without losing the other. Item 2 may reflect Ford's hybrid backdown, and the oddly coordinated Ford/GM pushing of hybrid development to Europe. Could be an attempt marginalize hybrid tech, waiting for ethanol to drive fuel prices down and kill it (doubtful). Item 3 tries to defuse protectionism. That last time Toyota had an emergent position vv the US auto industry our Gov slapped it with dumping fines and quotas.

allen Z

Who will pull plugin hybrid off first...Toyota or GM? Either way, the power industry of US is eyeing the transport market like never before.

allen Z

the launch/intro of production plugin hybrid vehicle.


Nice to see plans for the plug-in confirmed.


I was very happy with Mr. Press’s speech. It’s very rewarding to see another major auto company commit to PHEV’s. If they also are E85, I’m ready to sign up. Who am I kidding. I’ll buy a PHEV Prius even w/o E85!


Overall, I was pleased with the speech. I loved the line "Our global president...Katsuaki Watanabe...recently challenged all of us to redouble our efforts to contribute to society in our work. ...
He told of us of his dream to create cars of the future that can travel across the United States on one tank of fuel…clean the air while they are being driven…and prevent accidents and injuries." Talk about setting your goals high!

But, of course, I was happy to see that they are pursuing a plug-in hybrid. My next car will be a plug-in hybrid--I'll keep my current car until somebody will sell me a plug-in hybrid.

john galt

Allen Z makes a great point. PHEV, EV, etc. is a potential goldmine for business concerns involved in supplying or supporting the electrical grid. Coal, Nuclear, Wind, Hydro, Solar ,Geothermal, Waste Gas, etc. You can hook up anything that your heart desires to the grid, as long as it generates the volts. The beauty is the installed based. Power is available to even the most rural and remote reaches of the US. Just plug in. If the electrical energy producers, co-ops, wholesalers, battery and capacitor vendors, AC drive makers etc., have not formed a coalition to lobby Washington/DC on behalf of PHEVs and EVs, then they should damn quick. These firms can take a substantial chunk of revenue away from the oil, gasoline, and traditional auto markets. How about subsidies for battery producers and solar powered electrical generation plans.. Why do soybeans get all the spoils? Cheers.


Okay -- I don't mean to dump on Toyota too heavily. They are doing, and seem to be set to do, some pretty important work in improving automobiles from an environmental and sustainability perspective. And there are reasons why they said even the things I criticize.

But that's why I called it "cute" instead of malignant. Some of it is a sort of garden-variety misrepresentation which isn't meant to be fully deceptive but is meant to buff and gloss inconvenient facts, such as Toyota's success in profiting from the bloated SUV and pickup market, and their status as a non-domestic brand. What the heck -- a good friend of mine drives a Corolla and I think it is an excellent car. I've also rented a Prius from time to time and think that it is mighty cool. Hats off to them.

Mark A

I sorta agree with NBK. I too, was a little bothered by the mood of the speech.

Toyota has been sort of getting a free pass, in regards to the public image, by offering hybrid electric cars like the prius, and offering high mpg vehicles like the corolla, yaris, echo etc. But still profiteering off of US consumer demands for big SUV and big trucks, like the Sequoia, Land Cruiser and Tundra. Some of these vehicles, which should also include the Lexus LX suv, get mpg as low as 13mpg, or average around 17-18mpg for some of these big vehicles. Factor in the 80% mpg penalty for flex fuel E85, and this 17-18 mpg becomes 14 mpg. Could this be why Toyota does not currently fully embrace E85, yet make noises that they could be embracing it?

He also "...challenged automakers to work with government to set "reasonable" goals to improve fuel economy standards and reduce greenhouse gases in a way that doesnt severely damage the health of the auto industry...". If, and or, when the big three US domestics try to "work with" government, they are painted as asking for concessions! Seems unfair, yet Toyota has, and would also, benefit.

Harvey D.

A Toyota PHEV will work and is very good news. A 75% weight reduction in PHEVs components means more efficient, lighter batteries, motors and electronic controls, i.e. another good news.

A lighter Prius III hybrid (2008) may go as far as 70 mpg. The PHEV version with improved batteries (2008/2009) will most probably average more than 100 mpg.

Using cellulosic E85 (or equivalent), this couid mean a drastic reduction in fossil fuel consumption and GHG.

john galt: You have many good points. US industries should get on board now to get full benefits from this major industrial transition.

The production and use of cleaner, more efficient PHEVs and EVs is not a burden for the US economy but a gloden opportunity for a wide range of new local industries.


No company can turn its back on profitable markets to focus only on emerging technologies. The new technologies have to be funded in some way, and the readers of this site do not represent a large enough market to make a profit. If they did, the Prius would be selling better than the Ford F-150. It takes development time for both the technology and the market before we will have major change. So, until the Government starts funding the technology and the market, cut Toyota some slack on the SUV's.

As for the American auto company issue, this country has turned its back on American economic interests, on the apparent assumption that global corporate interests are in America's best interest. We would rather have global corporations making profits than allow the US Government get involved in making us competitive (by dealing with health insurance, for instance, or infrastructure). That is not Toyota's fault.

First GE called for Federal regulation on greenhouse gases, now Toyota calls for industry to work with Government on fuel economy. Sure they are looking out for their own interests. But industry also needs guidelines and incentives (disincentives) to set the rules of play. Otherwise, all companies will sink to the lowest common denominator -- competitive profits. If you change the conditions in which they compete, they can profit by moving in the right direction. Totally unregulated markets can result in some pretty ugly behavior that serves only individual self interest -- not the greater good.

Max Reid

Good effort.

Gas price increase has hurt even Toyota's truck sales, Tundra sales is down 10 % in YTD-2006.

Plug-in hybrid is the next step. Otherwise, people will settle down for smaller cars/trucks.

Mark Yates

I hope they'll move away from NiMH to Li-ion batteries (ipods, laptop, pdas) they have far better energy density and are lighter.
The battery is the key to electric and PHEV's.
Check out Amberjac's PHEV. It appears one company at least has solved the charge cycle of Li-Ion with a specially new patented battery called Saphion with a battery holding 90% charge even after 2000 charge cycles (300 for standard Li-ion and NiMH technology).
2000 x 100miles per charge = 200,000 miles battery life and still the battery is 90% a-ok! Oh and the battery is safe unlike normal li-ion which can flame and explode when tampered with.

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