NAGOYA, Japan Toyota is aiming for hybrid vehicle sales of 1 million units a year by the early 2010s and is counting on plug-in cars to help it get there.
Toyota will soon be testing plug-in hybrids in Japan, Europe and the United States. The cars will use lithium ion batteries that are being developed with Panasonic EV Energy Co.
We are making steady progress toward commercialization of this vehicle, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe said here at a Christmas Day news conference.
The push marks a split with Honda Motor Co., the industrys other leader in hybrid cars, about the future direction of the technology. Honda CEO Takeo Fukui said just last week that he was not really convinced of the need for plug-in hybrids.
Some Toyota officials also have voiced doubts about the cost of plug-ins. But Watanabe said the development of compact, lightweight lithium ion batteries will make the cars viable.
Toyota and Panasonic are preparing for mass production of lithium ion batteries at their Omori plant southwest of Tokyo, he said. But the Toyota chief didnt offer a start-up date.
Given its ambitions, Toyota has little choice but to pursue multiple hybrid strategies.
The company is not just targeting annual hybrid vehicle sales of 1 million by the early 2010s. It wants a hybrid vehicle in every model series by 2020.
Toyota may be the worlds hybrid leader, thanks to the popular Prius. But since launching the Prius in 1997, Toyota has sold only 1.25 million hybrids to date.
To get 1 million a year, Toyota needs to ramp up not only hybrid versions of conventional vehicles but also new hybrid-only models, said Tokuichi Uranishi, head of global planning.
We have to be aggressive in pursuing both routes, he said.
Honda is coming to a similar conclusion from the opposite direction.
It pushed into hybrids with a hybrid version of the Civic instead of a dedicated hybrid like the Prius.
Unhappy with its lackluster sales, Honda is now planning a hybrid-only model for 2009. That launch will be followed by a sports hybrid.
Hondas goal is equally lofty: have hybrids account for 10 percent of global sales around 2010.