DETROIT — Toyota Motor Corp. said it may license its system to other carmakers, as demand for vehicles with better fuel economy grows, according to the Bloomberg News Service on January 14. The carmaker currently licenses hybrid technology to Ford Motor Co. and Nissan Motor Co. The system can potentially be applied to vehicles powered by diesel, natural gas, or hydrogen, said Executive Vice President Akihiko Saito in an interview at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. “We are being more open to other automakers that are willing to use our hybrid technology,” said Saito. Toyota, which released its first gasoline-electric Prius hybrid in 1997, plans to sell about 300,000 hybrid vehicles a year by mid-2006. Carmakers are spending billions of dollars to develop cleaner hybrids or fuel-cell vehicles to meet tougher emissions laws around the world. Toyota, which sold 123,038 hybrids during the first 11 months of 2004, has six hybrid models. It plans to add hybrid Lexus RX 400h and Highlander sport/utility vehicles this year and a hybrid version of the Lexus GS sedan in 2006. General Motors and DaimlerChrysler plan to release a jointly developed hybrid technology in 2007. Ford, which used some technology licensed by Toyota, started to sell Escape hybrid sport/utility vehicle in September 2004. Nissan, 44.4-percent owned by Renault SA, will begin selling Altima hybrid models with Toyota components in 2006. “Other companies were very skeptical when we said we will sell 300,000 hybrids a year, now it seems like everyone feels they need to release hybrids quickly,'' said Saito. “We welcome their moves. It helps hybrids become the mainstream.” Honda, which offers Insight, Civic and Accord hybrids, sold 26,773 hybrids in the first 11 months of last year. Toyota has sold a cumulative 306,862 hybrids between 1997 and Nov. 2004 and Honda has sold a total of 81,867 hybrids between 1999 and November 2004. Honda President Takeo Fukui said he plans to mainly install hybrid system in mass-produced vehicles instead of hybrid-only models to keep costs lower and make hybrids more available. Tokyo-based Honda is also relying on variable cylinder management, a technology which varies the number of engine cylinders firing depending on how much power is needed, using more for acceleration and fewer at low engine loads. “By using variable cylinder management, we can easily match the fuel efficiency of hybrids,” Fukui said. “Ultimately, fuel cell vehicles will probably become the solution.” Toyota President Fujio Cho sees the annual 300,000 unit sales target as a “challenge.” Toyota expects 200,000 will come from the Prius. The automaker plans to sell 100,000 Prius in the U.S., 70,000 in Japan and the rest in regions such as Europe and Australia, Cho said at the Detroit show.

Originally posted on Fleet Financials