Toyota Says Future of Electric Cars Unclear

Creation of a convenient recharging system is a major obstacle.

Toyota president Akio Toyoda on Nov. 12 offered a cautious outlook on the market for environmentally friendly electric vehicles that rivals are scrambling to produce. Toyoda, in a joint media event in Tokyo with electric carmaker Tesla Motors, said the future of the electric vehicle market remained unclear, with the creation of a convenient recharging system being a major obstacle.

"At any time, customers and the society decide (the market trend). Honestly, I don't know how the market will shape up," Toyoda said.

"We want to be a manufacturer that can meet the demand of our customers when they say 'We like it this way,'" he said.

Setting the common standard for batteries and charging systems is crucial for greater use of electric vehicles, Toyoda said.

The comment came as Toyota prepares to showcase its "RAV4 EV" at a Los Angeles auto show this month, an all-electric version of Toyota's RAV4 sports utility vehicle with Tesla's powertrain.

Toyota Motors, which owns a $50 million stake in Tesla, has declined to discuss production details about the planned vehicle, scheduled for market release in 2012. Toyoda also kept mum when asked whether the auto giant had plans to invest more in Tesla.

Tesla Motors chief executive officer Elon Musk, who on Nov. 12 gave Toyoda a red Tesla Roadster as a gift, reportedly had told journalists that he expected the production to be "in the couple of thousand-unit range."

Musk also predicted that the luxury automaker's client base will expand steadily overseas so that its sales are evenly split between the U.S., Europe and Asia.

"We do believe Japan will be our No. 2 country in terms of sales over time," Musk said, according to Dow Jones Newswires. "Japan is a key market for the kind of product we produce," he added.

Tesla opened its first showroom in Asia last month in Tokyo's Aoyama district and has announced plans to enter the European market with a dealership in Paris.

Toyota's rivals have moved to embrace the nascent electric vehicle market, with Nissan soon to launch its all-electric, zero-emission Leaf, a car which has become the fulcrum of the Japanese automaker's green ambitions.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2010

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