Today in Tokyo, Toyota's vice chairman and head of research and development, Takeshi Uchiyamada, made some interesting and provocative statements.
At a press conference, Uchiyamada told reporters that Toyota was planning to release "21 new or full-model-change hybrids" -- not just over the next decade or two, but by the end of calendar year 2015. He also said that Toyota would add a fuel-cell vehicle to its lineup within the next three years.
Uchiyamada didn't release details of his plan, but one of the 21 vehicles he mentioned may be the fully electric compact eQ (based on the Scion iQ), which will roll out in very small batches to clients in the U.S. and Japan this year.
It's not surprising to hear that Toyota is so hyped about hybrids. Although Honda technically beat Toyota to the hybrid market -- at least in America -- the Insight hasn't captured the public's attention in the same way that the Prius has. Clearly, Toyota is planning to leverage its leadership in the field of fuel-economy down the road. (And it may upstage Honda in the fuel-cell arena, too.)
This tells us that Toyota is also optimistic about turning hybrids into profit centers. At the moment, traditional cars offer automakers far higher returns than their hybrid equivalents, but with technological advantages and the cost-savings that necessarily come with economies of scale, the difference between the two could be significantly reduced.
Where Toyota will invest its hybrid energies, though, remains a mystery. The company has said that it wants to produce hybrid models of every vehicle on its lots by 2020, so could Uchiyamada be ramping up that timeline?
One of Toyota's reasons for boosting its hybrid lineup might be the federal government's new fuel-efficiency standards, which will require U.S. vehicles to average 54.5 mpg by the year 2025. Much of Toyota's Prius family is withing spitting distance of that goal today, but vehicles like the Highlander -- even in hybrid form -- aren't even close. Does Toyota expect to improve hybrid efficiency that dramatically over the next 13 years? Or will Toyota cut its losses and drop some vehicles from its U.S. lineup entirely?
If you've got thoughts/hopes/dreams about the increasing hybridization of the Toyota fleet, drop us a line, or leave a note in the comments below.