5 April 2004

Toyota aims to curb wastes with bioplastics

Toyota Motor Corp., Japan’s largest automaker, plans to start supplying plastics made from sugarcane and corn to companies such as Sony Corp. and Shiseido Co., to yield about 4 trillion yen ($38.5 billion) in sales by 2020.

Japan’s biggest automaker will this year open an experimental bioplastics factory with annual production capacity of 1,000 tons at its Hirose auto-parts plant, near the company’s Toyota City base, General Manager Kozaburo Tsukishima said in an interview in Nagoya. The company will then build a bigger bioplastics plant that can produce 50,000 tons a year by 2007.

Toyota’s bioplastic will emit as much as 97 percent less carbon dioxide during disposal than regular plastic. The carmaker already uses bioplastics for spare tire covers in its Raum compact and floor mats in the Prius car, and last year said it plans to make its Japan-made cars 88 percent recyclable by the year to March 2006 to reduce costs and harmful waste, from about 83 percent.

“Bioplastics will be a homerun batter for Toyota,” Tsukishima said. “There is strong demand for bioplastics in all industries out there. It will grow just like the financial and housing businesses we do.” Toyota is talking to more than 60 companies that want to buy the new material, made from lactic acid extracted from plants, Tsukishima said. The 60 include “major supermarket operators and sports equipment makers,” he said.

Toyota will compete in the business with U.S.-based Dow Cargill Polymers, the only other bioplastics maker and a unit of Dow Chemical Co., Tsukishima said.

Toyota shares, which have risen about 40 percent in the past year, fell 3.6 percent to 3,740 yen yesterday in Tokyo.

Potential Customers
“Companies know that they need to care about the environment otherwise there will be no business,” Tsukishima said. “There are many companies like Sony and Shiseido that want to use Toyota’s bioplastics, and the push into bioplastics won’t stop.” The research has been financed from a fund set up in January 1997 by Toyota’s Honorary Chairman Shoichiro Toyoda and Chairman Hiroshi Okuda. The automaker started the fund with an initial 50 billion yen investment, to help start up non-automotive businesses in fields such as advanced biotechnology and reforestation.

The automaker, which expects to gain 15 percent of the global vehicle market in the next decade from 12 percent now, needs to produce more environmentally-friendly cars using recyclable materials as environmental regulations tighten.

“When the business is more established, it would provide Toyota an edge over rivals and has a huge potential to contribute to its main business,” said Yoshio Inamura, who manages the equivalent of 40 billion yen at Tokyo-Mitsubishi Asset Management in Tokyo.

(Vgl. Meldung vom 2004-04-01.)

Source: The International Herald Tribune vom 2004-04-04.

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