With the recent announcement that Toyota will begin hybrid Camry production in Australia and Thailand in the next two years, GM & Ford must be a little worried. Of course GM has also announced it will have a hybrid/diesel Commodore out around the same time, as for Ford... well, we'll have to wait and see.
However the American manufacturers have yet another reason to be worried, following the announcement today that Toyota will build two new hybrid vehicles and start production of lithium ion batteries next year.
Toyota says there will be two unique models, one badged a Toyota, the other a Lexus, both will sit above the third-generation Prius car, also due in 2009. The new Prius as well as the two new models are expected at this year's Detroit auto show.
Executive vice president of Toyota, Masatami Takimoto, said the new models will be larger than the Prius. "It's a totally new car," he said.
Unfortunately, Toyota has decided to stick with the current generation's nickel-metal hydride batteries for the updated Prius instead of moving on to the long-awaited lithium ion batteries. Toyota has previously blamed this delay on the need for more safety testing.
Toyota's Lithium Ion batteries, which are light in weight and high in power, will be built by Panasonic EV Energy Co starting in 2009. They will see the light of day with a debut in Toyota's first plug-in hybrid, due in 2010.
The two new hybrid models come as no surprise as the rest of the Japanese manufacturers continue to play catch up. Honda has already promised four hybrid vehicles by 2015 while Nissan will start mass-producing lithium ion batteries next year.
Moving on from lithium ion systems, Toyota is in the process of setting up a 50+ person strong team of battery researchers to develop a post-lithium ion battery with even better performance.
The race is on for the Big T to achieve its goal of selling 1 million hybrid vehicles a year by the early 2010s.