Honda Motor Co. is considering developing a fourth hybrid vehicle, a gasoline-electric light truck, as rival Toyota Motor Corp. prepares to launch two hybrid SUVs next year, according to the Detroit News newspaper. Such a vehicle would help Honda keep pace with its larger Japanese rival Toyota, which is ramping up production of hybrids and hopes to sell 300,000 hybrid vehicles in 2005. Toyota will launch hybrid Lexus RX and Toyota Highlander sport utility vehicles in the first half of next year. Honda, the first automaker to introduce a hybrid in the U.S. market, launched the Insight hybrid compact in 1999 and rolled out a Civic hybrid in 2002. In November, it will start selling a hybrid version of its popular Accord sedan powered by a V-6 engine and an electric motor. It is now considering expanding its hybrid lineup. “We haven’t defined yet which vehicle it will be, but it probably will be something in our light-truck line, probably on the SUV side,” said Tom Elliott, executive vice president of Honda Motor’s U.S. subsidiary. Honda has several light trucks in its model range, including the Honda CR-V and Pilot SUVs, the boxy Element, and the premium Acura MDX SUV. Toyota capitalized on the hybrid rage with the Prius sedan, introduced for 2001 and updated for 2004. It was clearly designated as a hybrid to appeal to customers seeking to express their environmental consciousness, said Wes Brown with the marketing consultant firm, Iceology, in Los Angeles. Detroit’s automakers are working on hybrids now, while European automakers are touting their new, clean diesels as fuel-efficient alternatives to gasoline engines. Ford Motor Co. launches its first hybrid this fall, a gas-electric Escape SUV; General Motors Corp. also plans to develop hybrid SUVs; and DaimlerChrysler AG’s Chrysler Group now plans to market hybrid models by the end of 2006.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials