Toyota Plans Plug-in Hybrids and Ethanol Cars

Toyota mulls plug-in hybrids, ethanol cars for US.

Toyota Motor Corp.’s (TM) top U.S executive said the Japanese auto maker may introduce ethanol-powered vehicles in the U.S. market in the “near term” and it is “pursuing a plug-in hybrid vehicle” in the U.S.

Toyota North America President Jim Press said the company, widely viewed as a fuel-efficiency leader in the auto industry, is embarking on the projects in an effort to “solve some of the key issues in our society, as well as encourage other auto makers to keep moving forward.” Press’s remarks came in a prepared speech released by Toyota in advance of an appearance before the National Press Club here.

“Toyota is strongly considering introducing a flex-fuel vehicle program in the United States in the near term,” Press said. “We’re already developing vehicles that can operate in ethanol-rich Brazil and we’re optimistic that we can offer similar vehicles to American consumers.”

Toyota’s entry into the E85 vehicle chase would likely be a relatively inexpensive venture and could give the auto maker one more tool in its assault on the U.S. market. It remains the fastest growing of the large car companies participating in the U.S. market and is threatening to eventually dethrone Ford as the No.2 player in the U.S.

Press did not elaborate in his remarks on the company’s exact plan related to plug-in hybrid vehicles, except to say the announcement of Toyota’s interest in such products has been “highly anticipated.” Ford (F) Chief Executive Bill Ford in May said his company is considering selling a plug-in hybrid vehicle, which can be plugged in when not in use in order to recharge batteries.

Toyota is considered to be the clear leader in the global market for gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles. The auto maker launched its Prius sedan in the 1990s in Japan and began exporting it to the U.S. shortly after it debuted. Press said Toyota has “sold more U.S. hybrids so far this year than Cadillac, Buick or Mercedes-Benz has sold cars.”

He said Toyota plans to launch its sixth hybrid in the U.S. market next year.

“Make no mistake about it, hybrids are the technology of the future and will play a starring role in the automotive industry during the 21st century,” he said. “That’s why Toyota is not backing off its strong commitment to hybrids. We know they are absolutely essential to the future success of this industry.”

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