GM, Toyota Battle Turns ElectricBy Baselinemag Print
Toyota Motor Corp, likely to claim the title of world's biggest automaker later this month from General Motors Corp, threw down the gauntlet to GM in a race for the next "green" car.
By Kevin Krolicki and Jui Chakravorty, Reuters
DETROIT—Toyota Motor Corp, likely to claim the title of world's biggest automaker later this month from General Motors Corp, on Monday threw down the gauntlet to GM in a race for the next "green" car.
In the process, Toyota — the world leader in popular gas-electric hybrids like the Prius sedan — may have short-circuited GM's year-old effort to bring the first "plug in" electric cars to market.
"We welcome competition because that is how new technology is developed for consumers," Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters at the Detroit Auto Show Monday. "But we don't want to lose."
Watanabe announced that Toyota will market a test fleet of rechargeable hybrid vehicles to companies or government agencies by the end of 2010.
Toyota has already begun preparations to build a factory that will produce the next-generation lithium-ion batteries needed for plug-ins and purely electric vehicles.
"Hybrids are a core business for Toyota," Watanabe said. "That strategy has absolutely not changed."
The comments were the clearest statement yet from the top Japanese automaker of its commitment to plug-in vehicle technology and amounted to a direct challenge to GM, which won widespread attention at the auto show last year, when it announced plans to build its own rechargeable vehicle, the Volt.
Toyota's confident and aggressive tone was in contrast to a briefing about the same time by Bob Lutz, GM's vice chairman and design chief, who has championed the Volt as the keystone to GM's fight to win "green" consumers concerned about global warming and fuel efficiency. "The end of 2010 is a big stretch," Lutz said, when asked if the Volt was on track for production in two years.
"It means everything has to go right and so far everything has gone right," Lutz told reporters. "Right now, we are very confident of getting it. But normally for a program this complex and with a technology the company has never executed before, you would like to give yourself more time."
Unlike gas-electric hybrids, which run on a system that twins battery power and a combustion engine, plug-ins are designed for short trips powered entirely by an electric motor and a battery charged through a socket at home.
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