Toyota is planning to sell ethanol-powered vehicles in the US by 2008 in the latest push by the Japanese carmaker into segments dominated by the Detroit-based manufacturers, a company executive said.
It will start selling a flexible-fuel vehicle, which can run on up to 85 per cent ethanol or ordinary petrol, after a surge of interest in ethanol, a fuel made from plants such as corn or sugar cane.
President George W. Bush has lent support and subsidies to ethanol as a way to cut America’s reliance on oil imports, while US carmakers have seized on the fuel as a low-cost way to gain green credentials.
Toyota has resisted the technology amid worries about the impact of highly-corrosive ethanol on rubber seals in the engine. The new vehicle would be fitted with anti-corrosive parts to meet US regulations.
Toyota is known for its fuel-efficient hybrid petrol-electric systems, with its Prius hatchback the market leader by far.
But the Japanese company is eager to show it has not put all its eggs into the hybrid basket. “We’re studying all alternative fuels,” Toyota said. “We will not be outflanked.” Last year’s surge of consumer interest in hybrid vehicles has shown signs of flagging amid questions about whether the extra fuel efficiency justifies the high purchase price.
A study by Oregon-based CNW Marketing Research concluded this month that the cost of energy used to produce a hybrid vehicle’s components, especially its electrical system, was far higher than for petrol-powered vehicles.
Carmakers are pursuing a range of strategies to improve fuel efficiency. JD Power, a research firm, estimated last week that global demand for diesel-powered cars and light trucks would almost double to 29m in 2015 from 15m last year.
General Motors and Ford have thrown their weight behind “flexible fuel” vehicles, partly as a way to comply with US fuel-economy regulations. They are lobbying for wider acceptance of E-85 fuel, comprising 85 per cent ethanol and 15 per cent petrol. Although about 1.5m cars in the US can run on this fuel, it is available at only about 700 out of 165,000 filling stations.
Toyota suggested that a less ambitious strategy of mixing only 10-15 per cent ethanol into petrol might produce greater savings, given that it would require little or no adjustment to existing engines.
Meanwhile, many carmakers continue to press ahead with hybrid technology, maintaining that improvements such as lighter batteries are likely as the technology is refined.
Source: soyatech.com April 19, 2006.