WASHINGTON -- Toyota is "pursuing" development of a plug-in hybrid vehicle and is "strongly considering" the sale of ethanol-capable vehicles in the United States, says Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor North America Inc.
Press offered the clues about the status of future green vehicles from Toyota in remarks he was to deliver Tuesday at the National Press Club.
Toyota long has downplayed the potential of plug-ins. Instead, the company has emphasized its leading role in the development and sale of conventional hybrids, which combine internal combustion engines and self-contained, on-board electric power.
But environmental and national security groups and some government officials have labeled plug-ins a promising response to energy problems. They have pressed the industry to market plug-ins.
A plug-in has a larger battery pack than a conventional hybrid and can run farther on all-electric power. It must be plugged in regularly to recharge the batteries.
Toyota executives also have criticized the emphasis that some competitors have placed on ethanol as an alternative fuel. But again, Toyota appears to be bowing to public and competitive pressures in advancing its plan to offer U.S. customers flex-fuel vehicles.
Such vehicles can run either on gasoline or on ethanol-gasoline mixtures that are as much as 85 percent alcohol, usually made from farm crops.
Press insisted that hybrids such as the Prius still represent the company's top technology. Toyota is going ahead with plans for hybrid versions of all its models.
Press, Toyota's top U.S. executive, said in his National Press Club remarks that good days are ahead for the U.S. automobile industry. He predicted U.S. sales of 20 million vehicles a year in the near future. He also said the industry will play a large role in solving the remaining societal problems created by cars and trucks.
Press said he expects General Motors and Ford Motor Co. to succeed in their turnaround efforts and to rebound as strong U.S. competitors. He said he applauds their efforts.
At the same time, he offered reminders of the big investments in plants and workers that Toyota and other import brands have made in the United States.
Earlier, Press said Toyota's place in talks about an alliance of GM, Nissan Motor Co. and Renault SA is "on the sidelines," waiting to see what happens. "If they become stronger competitors," Press said of the companies, "it will make us work a little harder."
News stories suggesting that Toyota might try to make its own deal with GM or otherwise thwart the alliance talks are "idle speculation," Press said. No such talk has occurred in Toyota offices, he said.
Leaders of GM, Nissan and Renault have launched a 90-day review of possible benefits of an alliance.
As he downplayed Toyota's interest in a possible new global automotive alliance, though, Press predicted that more industry consolidation is inevitable. He said that ultimately, there will be seven to 10 global automakers because smaller ones won't have the capital to stay competitive.
"We have a lot of goals and objectives to run our own company," Press told reporters here Monday night. "Our goal has never been to see how big we can be."
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