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Toyota sticks to hybrid script

Mainstream: Toyota says a hybrid Camry would be less quirky than Prius.

Toyota says governments need to offer incentives if Australia is to build a hybrid car

Toyota logo25 Mar 2008

TOYOTA Australia Technical Centre vice-president Max Gillard has called on the federal and state governments to clarify their positions on supporting hybrid technology as the company considers building a petrol-electric Camry at its Altona plant in Victoria.

The Australian federal government and Victorian state government have been lobbying Toyota Motor Corporation executives in Japan to award its Australian operation a hybrid production project, and are believed to have offered significant financial support in order to achieve that outcome.

However, Mr Gillard has told GoAuto that both tiers of government need to do more when it comes to incentives for purchasing hybrid vehicles, especially those made in Australia.

“I suppose the issue at the moment is that the governments, both state and federal, really haven’t made their position clear in regards to hybrid,” Mr Gillard said.

He said there were currently no formal incentives to purchase a hybrid vehicle on offer from any government in Australia, except for a promised stamp duty refund in Queensland that was yet to materialise.

Mr Gillard also said he thought governments should be prepared to support an Australian-made hybrid by purchasing them for fleets.

“If the government is serious, the government purchases should be pretty high too,” he said.

8 center imageLeft: Toyota Australia Technical Centre vice-president Max Gillard.

Toyota Australia’s plan to build a hybrid vehicle at Altona is still embryonic and the company has previously said very little about it publicly for fears that the project may fall over.

However, Mr Gillard made it clear that Toyota Australia wanted to build a hybrid version of the Camry.

“At the moment we have the Prius, which is very focused on fuel efficiency, you have SUVs like the (Lexus) RX and then the (Lexus) GS which are going more for performance,” he said.

“We are plumbing for something in the middle, which is not as quirky as the Prius, so a Camry hybrid would be ideal and we are working towards it.” Mr Gillard said the vehicle, if produced, would have to be a full petrol-electric hybrid model rather than a milder version that would simply stop the engine at idle and run ancillary systems, such as the air-conditioning system, off a battery.

Toyota Australia is keen to produce the hybrid Camry for both domestic and export markets, although the high Australian dollar is posing a problem. Even so, Mr Gillard believes building a hybrid locally would bring several benefits.

“All the benefits of local production would flow through – you don’t have the shipping issues, you don’t have the import duty,” he said.

“At the moment, with the Australian dollar being so strong, you could argue that it would probably be better to import it. But in the long term we believe we should be making the car where the car is being sold.” Asked whether Australians would be prepared to pay extra for a hybrid Camry over a regular model, Mr Gillard said: “That depends on what you mean by extra.” “Probably now you could buy a Corolla for two-thirds of the price of a Prius, but if you get a Camry-sized vehicle and you could sell it for $40,000 to $45,000 - that’s cheaper than the highest-grade Camry,” he said.

“So you are sort of in the right ballpark, you have the fuel efficiencies and if there are no negatives as far as the user is concerned, then it is the way to go.” Mr Gillard spoke to GoAuto earlier this month at SAE Australasia’s Green Vehicle Technology conference, where he presented Toyota’s view on future clean vehicle direction.

He said Toyota would continue to develop petrol and diesel engine and would investigate other new technologies, but was convinced that for now hybrid is the best answer.

Mr Gillard said full-electric plug-in hybrids, which will be introduced by Toyota overseas in 2010, could also have a large role to play in Australia.

“Because the cost of our electricity is so cheap – aside from South Africa we are the cheapest – plug-in hybrid has big potential in Australia,” he said.

“With so much commuting in Melbourne and Sydney, it is probably going to be quite effective, albeit to get the 60km range is really our target. We are still a long way off that with battery technology, but we are moving towards it.” In the meantime, according to Mr Gillard, petrol electric hybrids are the best bet.

“By having the hybrid technology combined with that, if you want higher performance or you want to go longer distances, you can do the job, whereas with pure electric you can’t,” he said.

Mr Gillard said the plug-in electric vehicles raised some environmental issues, but argued they are still a good option.

“There is some argument that in Australia it is not so good because our electricity fundamentally comes from brown coal, which is true, but notwithstanding it is our view that that is still a better way.”

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Camry Hybrid put on hold

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