Automakers Take These Strides Toward Greener Fleets

Ford (NYSE:F) and Toyota (NYSE:TM) plan to collaborate in developing a hybrid system for pickup trucks and SUVs. Their preliminary agreement calls for developing the new technology this decade, as well as working together on in-car communications systems and Internet-based services.

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Ford wants to make at least a quarter of its vehicles run at least partly on electricity and plans to triple its North American output of electric vehicles and hybrids to more than 100,000 by 2013. Ford currently has three hybrid models and sells about 35,000 hybrids annually. Toyota’s Prius is the top-selling hybrid in the U.S., with 74,427 new models sold this year through July.

Ford currently offers hybrid versions of the Escape sport-utility vehicle, as well as the Ford Fusion and Lincoln MKZ sedans. The automaker is set to begin production on its C-Max hybrid wagon and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012. Ford also plans to introduce an electric version of its compact Focus next year.

General Motors (NYSE:GM) has already begun selling hybrid models of its pickups and SUVs as well, including the Silverado, Sierra, Yukon, and Escalade, but they haven’t been selling very well due to large price premiums and lower towing capacity. In order to outsell GM, Ford and Toyota will have to maintain the same relative level of towing capacity in their hybrids as they do in the all-gas versions.

GM is currently working on a luxury electric Cadillac based on technology used in its Volt plug-in hybrid, as well as an all-electric small car for the Chevrolet brand. The battery-powered Cadillac, dubbed the ELR, will be built in 2013 as a 2014 model, according to inside sources. The ELR is the production version of the Converj concept car GM introduced in 2009.

The plan to use the automaker’s Voltec technology in other vehicles is meant to recoup its investment in the money-losing Chevy Volt. Profits from luxury vehicles using the Volt technology could drive down the technology’s cost. Plus,”The ELR will offer something not otherwise present — the combination of electric propulsion with striking design and the fun of luxury coupe driving,” said Don Butler, vice president of Cadillac marketing, in a statement.

The Volt has an electric-only range of 25 to 50 miles, after which it switches over to the gas engine, which holds 1.4 liters. Compare that to Toyota’s planned Prius plug-in hybrid, which will have a range of 475 miles, and will be able to drive 13 miles on electricity alone when fully charged. While the ELR will incorporate the Volt’s lithium-ion battery, GM officials have said the ELR will appeal to luxury brand buyers who care about horsepower and performance.

GM is also working on an all-electric subcompact Chevy, with the car’s battery being supplied by A123 Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:AONE). The pure electric subcompact would compete with Nissan’s (PINK:NSANY) Leaf, introduced last year. GM already has electric subcompacts in China and India, marketed as the Sail and Beat, respectively. The upcoming U.S. model will be called the Sonic.

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