Michels says Toyota invested in hybrid technology when it was a risky undertaking. He says the Prius, with 150,000 owners worldwide, is far more than "a publicity stunt."
Toyota doesn't need any public relations stunt to obscure its environmental record, he adds.
Toyota in the last decade has offered bigger and more powerful vehicles, but it also raised its car CAFE by 13 percent and its truck CAFE by 3 percent. Those gains came without using past credits or building flexible-fuel vehicles that run only on gasoline or by calling small car-based wagons trucks, Michels says. "That's quite an achievement," he adds.
Data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which manages the CAFE program, provide some ammunition for both sides.
DaimlerChrysler's 2003 model year light-truck CAFE was estimated at 22.4 mpg. As Zetsche said, that is ahead of Toyota's 22.0 mpg.
DaimlerChrysler also was higher than General Motors' 21.2 mpg, Ford Motor Co.'s 21.3 mpg and Nissan's 21.8 mpg. Honda was better at 24.6 mpg but has a more limited truck lineup.
The data also show that Toyota's trucks, which for many years were consistently ahead of industry averages for fuel economy, have gradually come back to the pack. The change coincided with Toyota Motor Corp.'s steady expansion of its truck lineup to include bigger vehicles with bigger engines.
The company offers everything from relatively fuel-stingy Tacomas and RAV4s - one of which gets 24 mpg in the city and 30 mpg on the highway - to giant Sequoias and Land Cruisers, one of which is rated at 13 mpg in the city and 17 mpg on the highway.
On the other hand, Toyota's car CAFE figures remain higher than most rivals, and the company is extending its hybrid technology to other model lines, including two SUVs.