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Don't hold your breath for Camry hybrid

Only in America: Camry hybrid went on sale in the US this year.

A hybrid version of Toyota's forthcoming Camry is no certainty for Australia - yet

19 May 2006

DO NOT bank on a Camry hybrid joining the Toyota line-up after the Japanese brand’s next-generation medium-sized car goes on sale in August – in the short term, at least.

Now on sale in the US, the Camry hybrid – which combines electric power with a 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine – is currently only built in left-hand drive and there are no plans yet for right-hand drive production.

"The Australian market is the only market raising its hand for a right-hand drive hybrid Camry, so far," said Toyota Australia executive director John Conomos.

Despite the prospect of a hybrid Camry joining the four-cylinder line-up at some stage, Mr Conomos said there were many unanswered questions.

"Who will buy it? How much will they pay? How many will we sell?" he asked.

"How will it sell against Prius? Is it sustainable? What money can you make? Can you make it locally? Are the component makers capable of producing components for the local car? These are unanswered questions.

"That’s the problem we have. If we could justify it, we’d build it locally." Mr Conomos also said Toyota Australia’s engineering resources were stretched developing other new products.

As a result, it was therefore easier to introduce hybrid technology across the premium Lexus marque globally "so we can ride off the back of the worldwide development".

Mr Conomos said it was his understanding that the Federal Government and local governments wanted a hybrid Camry launched here.

"But for the reasons I mentioned we’re going through that process of understanding how right now," he said. "It will take some time. Anecdotally, there is huge demand but how much would you pay for it?" Mr Conomos said in some other markets hybrids attracted tax concessions, an issue he would like to see discussed more widely here.

However, he acknowledged that rival car-makers may see any concessions as an unfair advantage.

If fuel reaches $US100 a barrel – currently around $US70 – Mr Conomos believes there will be "a paradigm shift" in car-buying habits.

8 center imageAlthough Toyota has a raft of frugal diesels in its armoury and Lexus has an IS diesel, Lexus Australia divisional manager Scott Grant believes that in the long-term, hybrids will prevail as a preferred power source over single fuel sources – and provide a "world leading position" for Lexus on hybrid power.

The company says hybrids will spearhead its assault on the European market.

Toyota expects that by 2008 it will deliver more than one million hybrids globally with growth exponentially as the powerplant of choice. If achieved, hybrids would represent 10 per cent of Toyota’s total output.

In a recent Toyota paper on alternative energy, the company said that initially some people considered hybrid vehicles as a temporary means to facilitate the transition from internal combustion engine vehicles to fuel-cell hydrogen vehicles.

"However, it is now realised that hybrid technology is indispensable for improving the efficiency of vehicles driven by not only gasoline engines but also by diesel and alternative fuel engines as well as in fuel-cell vehicles." Last month Japanese media reported that by 2010 Toyota planned to offer hybrids on all its vehicles that sell more than 100,000 units.

With the projected numbers of hybrids hitting the street, the issue of recycling also becomes more acute as some of the first-generation Priuses in some markets will be reaching their use-by dates.

Priuses have been on sale here since 2001 and Toyota Australia has an agreement to recycle hybrid batteries from its Prius and Lexus GS450h with a third-party supplier company based in France.

Toyota says the batteries will be recycled, rather than used in landfill. The nickel metal hydride battery packs have a 10-year minimum lifecycle, with a five-year warranty on the battery packs themselves. Toyota has so far reported no incidents with the battery packs, or failures.

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