WASHINGTON -- Toyota (IW 1000/8) chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada today challenged automakers to step up sales of hybrids in the United States, calling them "a long bridge" into future vehicles.
"Today I wish to call on the industry to sell five million hybrids in the U.S. by the end of 2016," Uchiyamada said in remarks before the Economic Club of Washington, D.C.
Uchiyamada, who pioneered the Prius, forecast that hybrid vehicles would play a larger role than understood at the moment in the development of automotive propulsion systems.
"It's only when we put ourselves under the same kind of intense pressure we faced in developing the Prius that we can achieve great goals," he said. "That's what it takes. I want our industry to achieve this goal."
Uchiyamada was chief engineer of the Toyota team that developed the Prius, the world's first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car, launched in 1997. He became chairman of the Japanese automaker in June, succeeding Fujio Cho.
"Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future," Uchiyamada said. "But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one. There are many more gains we can achieve with hybrids."
Fuel-Cell Vehicle is Next
Uchiyamada said he was "particularly excited" by a Toyota project developing a new hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle that would have zero tailpipe emissions and eliminate some of the issues with electric vehicles, such as charging time and driving distance.
He noted the auto industry needed to gear up to achieve the ambitious mileage standards established by President Barack Obama's administration.
As of March, Toyota had sold five million hybrid vehicles around the world, including the Prius. The Prius hit the three million sales level in June.
Toyota operates 14 plants in North America which produce 70% of its vehicles sold in the United States.
"Right now our focus is on the U.S. market," Uchiyamada said.
Toyota surged past Ford to win second place in U.S. sales in August as sales jumped 23% to 231,537 vehicles, the company's best month in more than five years.
Toyota expects to sell more than 2.2 million vehicles in the United States in 2013, up from 2.1 million in 2012 and compared with 1.6 million in 2011, Toyota Motor Sales executive vice president Bob Carter said.
A new Prius hybrid sedan is set to hit the market in 2015.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2013