TOKYO — Toyota does nearly everything well — except sports cars. In fact, the automaker lacks a Toyota-badged sports car in its U.S. lineup.
But Toyota Motor Corp. aims to change that with its own twist: hybrid power.
New sports models are in the works, and executives want to extend Toyota's lead in the hybrid segment with a hybrid sports car. Some even want Toyota to be the first to market one.
"We want to make a hybrid sports car reality," Kazuo Okamoto, Toyota Motor's r&d chief, said last month at the Tokyo auto show.
For a hint of what might be coming, look to the angular, space-age Toyota FT-HS concept. The four-person hybrid is an apparent spiritual successor to the Toyota Supra, out of production for years. There is no word on possible timing.
The top hurdle will be the availability of lithium ion batteries. They are the only energy-rich batteries small enough and light enough to make high-performance hybrids practical, Okamoto says.
The nickel-metal hydride batteries used in the hybrid Toyota Prius won't cut it, he says. And lithium ion technology won't be ready until 2010 at the earliest.
Moreover, it is unclear whether consumers will warm to a hybrid sports car. Hybrid owners usually are wooed by high mileage and green bragging rights. They typically don't care about laying down rubber from 0 to 60.
Honda Motor Co. touted its V-6 Accord Hybrid as an environmentally friendly high-performance car when it was introduced in the fall of 2004. Yet the model was a sales flop in the United States, and Honda yanked it at the end of the 2007 model year.