Toyota is basking in the limelight as it sees the sales of
its hybrid vehicles take off worldwide. The company introduced the world
first's modern gasoline-electric Prius in Japan in 1997. It took three years
for that first generation vehicle to make it over to the United
States, but it has been a relative hit here ever since. Since then, Toyota
has expanded its hybrid vehicle lineup to include the Highlander Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, Lexus RX
400h, Lexus GS 450h and Lexus
LS 600h L.
Toyota produced roughly 200,000 Prius hybrids during 2006 --
106,971 of which ended up in the hands of American drivers. A total of 313,000
Toyota hybrids were sold worldwide in 2006 and the company is projected to sell
430,000 worldwide in 2007. To date, the company has sold 998,900 hybrids
worldwide (as of April 2007).
Toyota announced last week that it is making tremendous
gains in reducing the cost of its Hybrid Synergy Drive system. By the year
2010, Toyota expects that the margins it receives on the sale of hybrids to be at parity with
conventional internal combustion engines (ICEs). By 2020, every Toyota
automobile will feature the Hybrid Synergy Drive according to Masatami
Takimoto, executive VP of powertrain development for Toyota.
In the immediate future, however, Toyota is working hard on
its next generation Prius hybrid. The company showcased its Hybrid X concept at the 2007
Geneva Auto Show. While the vehicle is dolled up with show car
"bling" like 20" wheels, suicide doors, and outlandish interior,
some features that are likely to reach production include LED exterior/interior
lighting, lithium-ion battery technology and an extensive use of lightweight
materials to keep weight down.