Autopia is reporting Plug-In Hybrid Leads Toyota’s Drive Beyond Oil.

Toyota, rightly or wrongly, is widely considered the greenest automaker, and the company hopes to solidify its hold on the title and move beyond oil through a sweeping plan to produce cleaner, more efficient cars — beginning with a plug-in hybrid it will produce by 2010.

The company’s ambitious “low-carbon” agenda includes cranking out 1 million hybrids a year and eventually offering hybrid versions of every model it sells. In the short-term, Toyota says it will produce more fuel efficient gasoline and diesel engines and push alternative fuels like cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel. It’s also pumping big money into lithium-ion batteries. With fuel prices going through the roof and auto sales going through the floor because of it, Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe says the auto industry has no choice but to move beyond petroleum.

Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe says the auto industry has no choice but to move beyond petroleum. “Our view is that oil production will peak in the near future. We need to develop power train(s) for alternative energy sources.”

Toyota is joining longtime battery partner Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. in launching a program to develop batteries it says will outperform lithium-ion batteries. It’s assigning 50 engineers to the project, according to Reuters, and plans to begin producing batteries next year. Full production is slated for 2010, although Toyota isn’t saying how many it might build. It also plans to continue building the nickel-metal hydride batteries it currently uses in hybrids.

The third-generation Prius, due next year, will use NiMH batteries. The plug-in hybrid coming in 2010 will use lithium-ion batteries and will “be geared toward fleet customers in Japan, (the) United States and Europe,” the company said. There’s no word on when it might be offered to the rest of us, but Toyota promises to “accelerate development of small electric vehicles for mass production.”

Toyota Plug-In Hybrid

The Chicago Tribune has a series of 6 images of the Toyota Plug-In Hybrid. Here is the second image.

An employee of Japan’s auto giant Toyota Motor displays the prototype model of the plug-in hybrid vehicle “Prius”, which can charge it’s battery from a home electrical outlet, seen during the annual Automotive Engineering Exposition at Yokohama city in Kanagawa prefecture on May 22, 2008. Toyota Motor said on May 15 that sales of the Prius, the world’s first mass-produced petrol-electric hybrid vehicle, had topped one million units since its launch about a decade ago.

Breaking Ties With Big Oil

MotorTrend is reporting New GM ad campaign breaks up with oil.

With its E85 vehicles, new dual-mode hybrids, and the upcoming Chevy Volt, recently GM has been pouring a great deal of resources into developing cars that consume less gas. Having previously touted some of its achievements in Chevrolet’s “Gas Friendly to Gas Free” ad campaign, now the automaker is planning an even bigger media push — in a new set of TV spots, GM will “break up” with big oil as if ending a bad relationship.

Scheduled to debut during NBC’s Meet the Press on June 22nd, the ad will resemble a “Dear John” letter as an announcer reads, “Dear Oil, we’ve had this great relationship for many years. We think we will both be a lot happier and healthier if we see less of each other.”

Chevy Volt Slaps Toyota Into Action

Blorge is reporting Chevy Volt slaps Toyota into action, competing plug-in hybrid planned.

The Chevy Volt has enjoyed a fair amount of buzz the last several months, which must sting for Toyota who previously was the king of green cars with the release of its updated Prius line. Though the Chevy Volt won’t roll off the production line until the end of 2010, Toyota is jumping in with a vengeance, it just announced plans to produce its own plug-in hybrid also by 2010.

Walking in the same footsteps as GM with the Chevy Volt, Toyota also plans to utilize lithium-ion battery technology and will be partnering with Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., the company who creates Panasonic products, to manufacture the batteries. That’s according to the Associated Press.

To top it off, Toyota plans to jump ahead, “it’s setting up a battery research department later this month to develop an innovative battery that can outperform even that lithium-ion battery.”

Toyota’s President, Katsuaki Watanabe, indicated that a breakthrough in technology was critical in allowing further expansion of the automobile market, he said “without focusing on measures to address global warming and energy issues, there can be no future for our auto business.”

My Bet: Toyota wins this race by a mile.

Ford Needs Government Help

In contrast to Toyota and GM, Ford says government help needed to develop plug-ins.

Ford Motor Co (F) is confident it has the expertise to design a plug-in hybrid, but it would need U.S. government help to get that done and to bring one to market, which it does not expect any time soon, the company’s North American president said on Wednesday.

Fields said Congress must allocate money already approved for research programs dedicated to developing powerful, reliable and affordable batteries, the crucial energy component.

He also said government should approve tax credits — similar to ones offered today for consumer purchases of gas/electric hybrids. Government should also help retool factories to build plug-ins, Fields said.

“Japan, China, Korea, and India are significantly funding the research development and deployment of plug-in hybrid vehicle technologies. This is a race we must win,” Fields said.

Hybrids Fly Off The Lots

Auto manufactures just can’t make enough of these models. The Wall Street Journal is reporting Hybrid Vehicles Fly Off Dealer Lots, Supply Challenges Mount.

Demand for gas-electric hybrids has been surging overall as consumers increasingly opt for fuel-sipping cars to combat high gasoline prices. The Prius, the first mass-market hybrid and the most iconic hybrid name, is at the vanguard of the trend, with U.S. dealerships recently measuring their Prius inventories in hours, not days.

At the end of May, a new Prius averaged just under 17 hours on a dealership lot before being sold, compared with an average 3.5 days at the end of April. For comparison, Toyota’s average passenger car spends about 25 days at the dealership, according to the company.

Still, hybrids account for a small percentage of overall sales. Last month, production-related supply issues actually led to a drop in hybrid sales industrywide as a percentage of all new car sales, to 2.8% from 3.7% in May 2007, according to data from J.D. Power & Associates.

“As the [hybrid] vehicles have sold, they can’t replenish them” fast enough, said J.D. Power analyst Tom Libby. “It’s sort of a missed opportunity that I’m sure the manufacturers are going to try to make up for” eventually.

How Hybrids Work

Inquiring minds that want to understand how hybrid cars work can find the answer at How Stuff Works. EarthEasy has a list of scheduled releases for hybrids.

Now, if only the government would get out of the way, the free market will have a chance to work.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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