A breakthrough powertrain system is set to play a key role in driving Toyota to its global goal of building more than 300,000 hybrid vehicles each year from the end of 2005.
Only hours after General Motors announced it will have the capability to build up to one million hybrid cars and trucks per year after 2005, the Japanese company unveiled at the Detroit Motor Show what it claimed as a next-generation hybrid system.
Called Hybrid Synergy Drive (HSD), the system is modular and easily adapted for use on a wide range of vehicles, including various Lexus models.
Toyota Motor president Fujio Cho said: 'This is an exciting new dimension to the traditional hybrid advantages of high mileage and low emissions. It is lighter, more compact and extremely flexible and will be the heart of our expanded line-up of hybrid vehicles. We believe this development will spread advanced, low-emission technology faster around the world.'
HSD has been developed to replace the platform used for Toyota's Prius, which was launched in 1997 as the world's first mass-produced hybrid passenger car. To be introduced in the Lexus RX330 sport utility vehicle in 2005, the new system links a V6 petrol engine with front and rear electric motors and generates significantly higher power than the Prius, with more efficiency.
Toyota believes it can deliver the benefits of all-wheel drive in a lighter yet more complex package.
Because the system is modular, Toyota is looking to combine different sized motors and engines to suit different models: some combinations can produce high power while some will be tuned for fuel economy.
Lexus GB director Karl Schlicht said: 'The RX with Hybrid Synergy Drive has a V6 engine with the performance, power and torque of a V8, yet delivers the fuel economy of a small car while producing a fraction of the emissions of standard sport utility vehicles.'
Toyota and Honda have been selling hybrid models in the US for several years and achieved a joint total of 36,000 registrations last year. There is no date set for a European introduction.
Honda targets user-choosers with new hybrid Civic model
Honda is pinning its hopes on user-chooser business for its new hybrid model, which is due on sale in the UK in May.
The Civic IMA (Integrated Motor Assist) takes over from the Japanese company's Insight coupe model which featured a petrol engine mated to the IMA system to lower emissions and raise fuel economy.
The Civic IMA, which is expected to cost under £15,000, features the same technology but in a more conventional saloon body – similar to its only rival, the Toyota Prius.
Honda Motor Europe spokesman Stephen Hollings said: The corporate sector has already shown a lot of interest in the Civic because its ultra-low exhaust emissions allow substantial tax benefits and exempt it from city congestion charges. We're confident that user-choosers will account for a substantial number of the 1,500 examples we hope to sell this year,'
Honda is also planning to recruit the help of its dealer network to show British motorists how they can save money as well as help the environment by making the switch to hybrid cars.
Officials at the Japanese company are planning to ask sales outlets to register demonstrators of the new Civic IMA hybrid model.
Hollings added: 'The Insight, our first car, won a lot of publicity because it was the pacesetter in this new field of propulsion, but relatively few were registered.
'There is no doubt we have a massive educational job to do in explaining the benefits of IMA. We are planning to stage a series of ride and drive events to enable the car to be compared with other Civics powered by traditional petrol and diesel engines. But we still need a lot of help from the dealers to get the message across that IMA has no drawbacks and offers a win-win solution to saving energy and cutting pollution.'
London charging boosts CNG sales
FLEETS hoping to avoid rising costs when the London congestion charge is introduced next month are turning to CNG-powered vans, claims vehicle manufacturer Iveco.
The company says a number of parcel delivery companies and local authority sub-contractors have contacted the company to enquire about its low-emission compressed natural gas (CNG) versions of the Daily City Truck – with many placing orders for the vehicle.
The range is powered by Iveco's 2.8-litre engine, which produces 106bhp and 162lb-ft of torque, and runs only on CNG.
Iveco says the engine already exceeds Euro V emissions legislation. Vehicle range varies between 150 and 170 miles according to the size of the tank fitted.
The manufacturer expects order levels from fleets to reach about 1,000 units for the van this year but admits it is unlikely to be able to meet that level of demand.
Chris Thorneycroft-Smith, director of the company's Commercial Vehicle Business Unit, said: 'Congestion charging has caused so much interest in the van – things are definitely hotting up. The fact fleets will escape the £5 per day charge and CNG as a fuel is so cheap makes it an attractive offer to fleets.'
The vans costs an extra £4,000 over their normal variants but fleets can recoup £3,000 of that through a PowerShift grant.
'It is typically parcel delivery firms travelling in and out of London all day and local authority sub-contractors that will have to pay the congestion charge that are so interested,' Thorneycroft-Smith said. 'It is very difficult to put a figure on it but I expect we will have received orders for 1,000 CNG vans this year. Whether we can meet that demand is another thing but we will sell all that we make.'
Prius on trial with Wilts CC
WILTSHIRE County Council is trialling a Toyota Prius petrol-electric hybrid car on its pool car fleet.
The car will run alongside a 2.0-litre turbocharged D-4D Corolla diesel and a 1.0-litre petrol Yaris.
Running costs, performance and fuel economy for the three vehicles will then be compared to decide on the future composition of the five-strong pool car fleet.
John Down, Wiltshire County Council's development consultant, who has been running the project, said: 'We want to get the views of our staff on the trial vehicles.
'If they need to travel to a business meeting and no suitable public transport is available, we want them to try out one of these new low-emission pool cars. The monitoring of the trial will include miles driven, frequency and ease of use for staff using the pool car system.
'If the pilot is successful, in future we hope to see a permanent fleet of green vehicles for Wiltshire County Council staff to hire.'
The council has put together a green travel plan based on feedback from staff, and is looking to introduce schemes to cut down on the amount of car use, including car sharing initiatives, cycling, walking and public transport incentives.