Hybrids a long bridge to future, says Toyota chairman

They have more to teach carmakers, says Takeshi Uchiyamada, challenging them to sell five million of the vehicles in the US by 2016

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 2:32pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 October, 2013, 2:33pm


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Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada challenged carmakers on Monday to step up sales of hybrids in the United States, calling them “a long bridge” to future vehicles.

“Today I wish to call on the industry to sell five million hybrids in the US by the end of 2016,” Uchiyamada, who pioneered the Prius, said in remarks before the Economic Club of Washington.

Uchiyamada forecast that hybrid vehicles would play a larger role than understood at the moment in the development of automotive propulsion systems.

“It’s only when we put ourselves under the same kind of intense pressure we faced in developing the Prius that we can achieve great goals,” he said. “That’s what it takes. I want our industry to achieve this goal.”

Uchiyamada was chief engineer of the Toyota team that developed the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid car, launched in 1997.

He became chairman of the Japanese carmaker in June.

“Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future. But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one,” Uchiyamada said.

“There are many more gains we can achieve with hybrids.”

Uchiyamada said he was “particularly excited” by a Toyota project developing a new hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that would have zero tailpipe emissions and eliminate some of the issues with electric vehicles, such as charging time and driving distance.

He said the car industry needed to gear up to achieve the ambitious mileage standards established by the US government.

By March, Toyota had sold five million hybrid vehicles around the world, including the Prius. That model hit the three million mark in June.

Toyota operates 14 plants in North America, which produce 70 per cent of its vehicles sold in the United States.

David Rubenstein, president of the Economic Club and co-chief executive of The Carlyle Group, asked whether the US or China, the world’s largest vehicle market, was more important for Toyota at the moment.

“Right now our focus is on the US market,” Uchiyamada said. Toyota sells more than two million cars a year in the country.

“But unfortunately, in the case of Toyota, in China we still have a very small, or low, presence,” selling about 900,000 vehicles, he said, speaking through a translator.

Toyota surged past US carmaker Ford in August to win second place in US sales as volumes jumped 23 per cent to 231,537 vehicles, the company’s best month in more than five years.

In early September, a Toyota executive was upbeat about the company’s US sales outlook after the car industry exited a three-year slump amid the 2007-2009 recession.

Toyota expects to sell more than 2.2 million vehicles in the United States this year, up from 2.1 million last year and compared with 1.6 million in 2011, Toyota Motor Sales executive vice-president Bob Carter said.

A new Prius hybrid sedan is set to hit the market in 2015.