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Toyota’s Lentz Discusses Vehicle Plans and Alternative-Fuel Technologies Through 2012 MY

January 20, 2011

LOS ANGELES - On Tuesday, Jan. 18., Jim Lentz, president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor Sales (TMS), U.S.A., Inc. said the company plans to introduce 11 new/updated hybrids globally by the end of 2012, which include the new Prius models (the larger Prius V and compact Prius C) and the Lexus CT hybrid.

He said Toyota plans to introduce the battery-electric RAV4 EV (the automaker is collaborating with Tesla Motors on this project) and mentioned the Prius Plug-In Hybrid as another battery electric vehicle in the company’s lineup. With relation to EVs, Lentz said Toyota is also working on solid state (metal-less) battery technology. Toyota’s Lentz also said the company will develop a zero-emissions fuel-cell-powered (which uses hydrogen) vehicle by 2015.

Lentz spoke to journalists at a meeting of the Motor Press Guild in Los Angeles about the topics mentioned above. He said one driver of this investment by Toyota is the CAFE 34.1 mpg requirement that will go into effect for the 2016 model year.

When it comes to other fueling technologies, Lentz said Toyota is not planning any diesel-powered vehicles and is studying compressed natural gas (CNG) technology again in the context of the Camry NGV. Lentz said Toyota sees CNG as a “transitional” fuel type with a 30-year lifespan (2020-2050). He added that he believes that automakers will use CNG in fuel-cell stacks.

With regard to vehicle platforms, Lentz said he doesn’t believe that “global” vehicle platforms work but said the company does plan to focus on platforms that are more flexible and share characteristics such as wheel size and suspension, among others. He said the company does plan to make different vehicle exteriors depending on the regional marketplace.

Other questions fielded by Lentz covered soft Toyota Tundra sales and the potential limitation of access to the rare earth materials used in hybrid and electric vehicles.

In addressing the rare earth materials issue, Lentz said that in the short term, although China controls many of the mines that produce rare earth materials, that country is not the sole source for the resources. He cited a source in San Bernardino, Calif. though he said that site would need to be reopened as a mine in order to become a viable provider. In the long term, Lentz said Toyota is working on hybrid technology that doesn’t require rare earth materials.

Lentz said with regard to Tundra sales, buyers traded in their Tundras for Tacomas during the period of high gas prices in 2008 and cited the subsequent recession as a reason for fewer purchases. Lentz said the company still plans to focus on the Tundra, but plans to manufacture the Tundra in the same plant as the Tacoma.

By Greg Basich

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