Toyota Chairman: Hybrids Could Constitute 20 Percent of All Auto Sales
Just sixteen years ago, a curious little automotive creature came ashore in the United States, aimed at what was then a marginal slice of the auto market: consumers who were fed up with paying for gasoline, or at least in the volumes that they were buying it in. This car was the Honda Insight, and within a matter of months, it would be followed by the Toyota (NYSE:TM) Prius. How small was this niche market? Considering the average price of gas per gallon in 1998 hovered around $1, pretty small. In fact, it was really those looking to make more of an environmental statement than big savings at the pump.
Fast forward to the present day, and the Prius is the most popular hybrid car on the market. More impressively, while gas has in excess of tripled in price since then, hybrids account for about 13 percent to 14 percent of all auto sales, and that growth isn’t about to slow down, according to a Toyota executive.
“I foresee hybrid models pretty soon reaching 20 percent of global sales from about 13 percent to 14 percent now,” Toyota Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada told Automotive News Europe. Uchiyamada was responsible for a team of engineers at Toyota in 1993 who were working on Project G21, which was meant to be a car befitting of the 21st century.
“My team proposed to top management that we design a vehicle that would achieve one-and-a-half times better fuel consumption than anything that existed before,” Automotive News Europe quoted him as saying. However, that wasn’t good enough for the brass at Toyota, who told the Project G21 crew to “double it. You are not being ambitious enough.” Since then, Toyota has sold 6 million Toyota and Lexus-branded hybrid vehicles around the world.
Europe and Japan have been havens for hybrid sales, and Toyota is no longer the only large player. Honda has been there all along, and more recently, Ford has beefed up its hybrid offers, which have done exceptionally well on the showroom floor.
Europe, however, remains a weak spot. The continent has many different diesel powertrains to choose from, which are both cheaper and perhaps equally efficient to a hybrid system. Europe’s hybrid sales in 2013 totaled 214,237 units, a 40 percent leap, but it pales alongside the 234,228 sales in the U.S. for the Prius nameplate alone.
Europe has instead been leaning toward plug-in hybrids, which use an auxiliary internal combustion engine that kicks in after the electrical charge is depleted. Toyota hasn’t quite embraced the plug-in aspect, implying that the technology doesn’t factor into Uchiyamada’s growth projections. Out of the twenty-seven hybrid models that Toyota sells globally, only one uses the plug-in format.
However, Uchiyamada told Automotive News Europe that Toyota is “closely watching what [its] competitors are doing” in regards to plug-ins.