Toyota's rise to fame with hyrbid technology is one which has been questioned repeatedly. From claims the technology was stolen, a CNW Marketing/Research which found that the popular hybrid was less environmentally friendly than a Hummer H2, or even allegations the Japanese government funded the Prius. The list goes on and on and it's clear that controversy is never far from Toyota's hybrid program.

Chevrolet Volt

So today we can add yet another controversy to the list. With GM and the rest of the industry catching up to the Big T in terms of hybrid technology, Toyota is showing early signs of panic.

Reports from the U.S. today indicate that while Chevrolet is showing-off the new electric powered Volt, Toyota has gone as far as to raise concerns about the special-treatment promised for the Volt by new proposed legislation.

Production 2011 Chevrolet Volt leaked

GM is hopeful that the new Volt will be given generous tax credits, a move which Toyota is fighting to stop. A Toyota executive recently told a congressional committee that the government should not enact laws that benefit only one plug-in hybrid design.

"(pending legislation) redefines plug-in electric vehicles to seemingly eliminate consumer tax credits for all but one plug-in vehicle design. Toyota believes this approach is counterproductive. It will discourage manufacturers from developing and consumers from purchasing 'blended' plug-ins that are affordable to the greatest number of consumers."Robert Wimmer of Toyota said.

Toyota has been repeatedly delayed with the launch of the new Prius. No longer the only real hybrid on the market, the next-generation Prius has a lot to live up to. What we know, is that the Japanese giant has added to the new Prius' battery pack, making it capable of running longer in all-electric mode.

Toyota Hybrid X concept

The company plans to unveil the new Prius by 2010. Perhaps, right before the Volt, which is also scheduled to go on sale in 2010.

Production 2011 Chevrolet Volt leakedProduction 2011 Chevrolet Volt leaked

The difference between the Volt and the new Prius? The Volt is a true electric car, using a battery pack rated at 16 kilowatt hours, the vehicle is capable of running on electricity alone for about 60km, something even the new Prius can't do.

Yes, it does have a conventional petrol engine, but that is primarily to recharge batteries and extend range. The Volt's battery pack is larger than that of the existing Prius and the one being developed.

The new laws proposed in the U.S. will give tax credits to plug-ins with at least 6 kilowatt-hours of electric power. Credits would reach $7,500 for light-duty vehicles.

Is Toyota scared of the Volt? Should it be?

Meanwhile, General Motors Vice Chairman Bob Lutz wrote a lengthy defence of the newly unveiled Chevrolet Volt on his GM fastlane blog yesterday.

Here is a copy of the posting:

We've weathered a lot of skepticism since the Chevrolet Volt concept was introduced at the 2007 Detroit show. The Volt has been called "vaporware" by some members of the media. We've heard executives from other manufacturers tell the press that the battery technology won't work. We've even been accused of using the Volt to "greenwash" our image.

Well, as everyone knows now, the Volt is real, and the covers have come off. And it represents nothing less than the first step in the reinvention of the automobile.

The vehicle's design has come under some criticism, most of it, to me, unwarranted. The challenge to the designers wasn't to design the most beautiful car imaginable and accept the compromises you have to make to do so. It was, make no compromise to fuel efficiency and electric range, and then do the most beautiful design possible, around those aerodynamic dictates.

When you look at the exterior of the Volt, you might notice certain aerodynamic shapes and design elements of some other cars you might see on the road. But beneath the skin, it shares very little with any other car that's ever existed. So I submit that while it's typically design that makes an emotional connection with buyers, in this case, the Volt is going to be bought for emotional reasons, but it will be for the emotion tied to the technology contained therein.

The Volt means a lot to General Motors, and to the industry, on a variety of levels. First of all, this is solid technology that is going to be proven reliable. It's a practical way that we can electrify the automobile and drastically reduce our dependency on imported petroleum. It's also important to GM to help reinforce and continue its proud history of technological innovation, and to help restore the image of leadership that accompanied that history.

In terms of the impact of Volt on the automobile industry, I think you'll see lithium-ion technology filter out to the rest of the industry, even to our competitors who initially said it wouldn't work. I think they've figured out that we may well be onto a winning formula here, with 40 miles of driving powered by electricity from a battery and a small engine -- powered by gasoline or E85 -- to create additional electricity to power the vehicle for several hundred additional miles. I suspect most of our competitors will have vehicles with technology similar to the Volt within four or five years.

What does that mean for society at large? I think it can have an enormous benefit. Our statistics show that 78 percent of Americans drive 40 miles a day or less. That means that nearly 80 percent of Americans can commute powered by electricity from the grid, never using a drop of gas.

When we achieve substantial production, and if our competitors do as well, and the public takes to this new way of driving -- and there's no doubt in my mind they will -- we will drastically reduce gasoline and/or diesel consumption and we will simultaneously be drastically reducing our dependency on oil. This puts the country in a much more comfortable place geopolitically and also helps the environment. So at this point, I think it's very hard to overestimate the importance of the Volt for GM, for the industry and for society in general.

The production version of the Volt represents our progress, and our commitment to seeing that all become a reality in short order. We'd like nothing more than to see everyone drive a Volt and stop going to the gas pump so often to fill up on ever-more-expensive fuel imported from an ever-more-unstable part of the world.

With the Volt, you go home, you plug it in, and you're done. And for roughly 80 cents' worth of electricity, you've got a fully-charged battery, ready to take on another forty miles of gas-free and tailpipe-emission-free driving. If that's greenwashing, then come on in -- the water's fine.

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