Toyota: Despite EV Push, Hybrids Will Remain Relevant

While company maintains its place atop the hybrid market, it's also working on a new hydrogen-fueled model.

Toyota Motor Corporation Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada holds up a button that reads 'Prius Geek' while speaking during an Economic Club event in Washington, D.C., Sept. 30, 2013.
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Companies like Tesla may toil away on electric vehicles, but hybrids will continue to have plenty of selling potential for years to come, according to one top official at Toyota.

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Speaking in Washington Monday morning, Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada acknowledged that hybrids may only be a temporary force in the auto market, but added he believes they will be around for the foreseeable future.

"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 sturdy one," he said in prepared remarks to a gathering of the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.

Since Toyota first introduced the Prius in 1997, the market for the gas-and-electric cars has grown increasingly crowded. Most top automakers now offer their own versions of the fuel-efficient cars.

Toyota may believe that hybrids have a bright future, but it also has a vested interest in hoping that hybrids remain in demand. Toyota's Prius is currently the top-selling hybrid car. Worldwide, 5 million of the hybrid models have been sold. The company is currently working on the fourth-generation Prius and is "committed" to pushing mileage per gallon more than 10 percent above the vehicle's current level, at around 50 mpg.

"The Prius has become the most important vehicle for our future," said Uchiyamada.

Once the car industry crosses that hybrid bridge, the future is less certain. While electric vehicles are attractive for having zero emissions, Toyota is focusing its energies on releasing a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle by 2015.

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"The fuel cell vehicle will be a much more realistic solution" than a 100-percent electric vehicle in creating a car with zero emissions, said Uchiyamada, through a translator, noting that electric vehicles have short driving distances and require time to charge.

However, Uchiyamada acknowledged that infrastructure could pose problems for fuel cell vehicles, most notably in the availability of hydrogen fueling stations.

Toyota isn't the only company concerned about the lack of those stations. German-owned Daimler group announced Monday it would spend $500 million during the next 10 years on creating hydrogen filling stations in Germany.

Though hydrogen fuel cell vehicles may catch on eventually, Uchiyamada believes their rise may be less steep than the boom in hybrids.

"I think the fuel cell vehicle will penetrate to a certain degree, but maybe not as much as hybrid vehicles," said Uchiyamada, speaking to reporters after his remarks. "I think it will take a little more time."

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