Toyota to sell gas/electric hybrid car this year

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TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. said on October 14 that it will start selling in Japan on December 10 an environmentally-friendly car that is powered with a hybrid gas and electric engine. The car, called the Prius, will be priced at $17,790 and the company is expecting monthly sales of 1,000 units.

The Prius is more fuel efficient and produces fewer emissions than a conventional engine. The launch coincides with the U.N. climate change conference scheduled for December 1-10 in the Japanese city of Kyoto. Nations will try to hammer out binding greenhouse gas emissions cuts at the conference in order to head off global warming.

Industry analysts said it would be difficult for Toyota to make money on the Prius because of the low price. They do not predict the car as initially being profitable for Toyota. The domestic advertising for the car is being handled by Dentsu Inc. as part of Toyota's Eco Project. The Eco Project is a major nationwide campaign authorized by Toyota's five dealership divisions in which the automaker's plans and efforts for environmental protection are highlighted.

The hybrid car uses a gasoline engine, electric motor and electric generator to achieve nearly twice the fuel efficiency of conventional gasoline powered cars. According to Toyota's tests, a hybrid car with a 1.5 liter engine had about 50% less carbon dioxide emissions as compared with a 1.5 liter gasoline powered Corolla model car.

The hybrid system engages the gasoline powered engine or the electric engine depending on driving conditions. The car has a transmission that supplies energy to the driving mechanism from the electric engine in order to supplement the power generated by the gasoline engine.

Toyota also said once a Prius model car is scrapped, more of its parts can be recycled as compared with typical cars. By 2000, Toyota is planning to have vehicle recyclability levels of 90% of the car by weight.

The Japanese auto giant is planning to take the environmentally friendly car to markets in Europe and North America after the Japan launch.

Copyright October 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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