Toyota has always been a patient company that plans for the long term. After 10 years and countless billions of dollars, its efforts to dominate the market for hybrid cars continue to pay off.
The company recently announced it would double the European sales of its iconic Prius within two years, in response to efforts by the European Union to regulate vehicle emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2). Tadashi Arashima, CEO of Toyota Europe, said on Thursday that the company plans to sell 90,000 Priuses in 2010, against this year’s goal of 43,000.
More important, the company also said it will eventually manufacture the battery packs for the Prius in the United States. Earlier this year, when US gasoline prices soared, Toyota quickly reshuffled its manufacturing plans and said it would build the next generation Prius at a brand-new plant in Blue Springs, Mississippi starting late in 2010. It had previously planned to make Highlander sport-utility vehicles there.
The company began building Camry Hybrids at its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant in October 2006, and it plans to make up to 50,000 a year there. But all its other hybrids are imported from Japan, including the 183,800 Priuses it sold in North America last year. And it still imports crucial hybrid components from Japan—including the nickel metal hydride battery packs for those Camrys.
Vice Chairman Kazuo Okamoto told industry analysts on Friday that the company would make advanced batteries in North America, though the timing would depend on oil-price fluctuations. He called it “very difficult” to make parts of the battery outside Japan, but acknowledged it would happen. He said nothing on whether the company would base North American batteries on its current nickel metal hydride technology—used in all Toyota hybrids—or more advanced lithium-ion cells, such as those in the Chevrolet Volt scheduled for late 2010. Toyota usually pioneers new technologies in its home plants, however, before extending them into its global plants—so less-advanced technology would seem to be a safe bet.
The bulk of the world’s advanced batteries are presently built in Asia. Industry strategists have increasingly questioned whether North American industry can remain competitive if it has no onshore manufacturing capability for advanced batteries. Those battery packs are likely to store energy for several different vehicle types by the 2020s.
Meanwhile, underlining just how scarce Priuses have become at Toyota dealers, a nonprofit is giving away a Prius in a fundraising raffle—titling its press release, “Who Says a Toyota Prius is Hard to Find?” The California State Parks Foundation offered the 2009 Prius as the prize in a drawing at its 2008 Golden Poppy Award gala on Friday, September 26. Tickets are $100, and 700 will be sold. Readers can, of course, figure the odds themselves…