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Old dog to learn new tricks

Tough but green: Toyota says a petrol-electric LandCruiser is "certainly a thing of the future".

A clean, green LandCruiser from Toyota? Now that would be something to see...

11 Aug 2005

DIEHARD four-wheel drive enthusiasts may choke on their beef jerky, but a petrol-electric hybrid LandCruiser? It might sound far-fetched but Toyota’s director of sales and marketing, David Buttner, foresees the day when all Toyotas in Australia will have a petrol-electric drivetrain supplementing petrol models.

But he stresses it won’t happen overnight.

"It’s certainly a thing of the future," he said. "Toyota is putting a lot of research and development into hybrids.

"I think that down the track there is potential for hybrids across all Toyota products." Mr Buttner confirmed the next-generation Camry would be available in hybrid form in some markets – and could be in Australia before the decade is out.

Before then, the company plans to add two more hybrids to its line-up with the Lexus RX400h and GS450h joining the successful 1.5-litre Prius hatch early next year.

The GS combines a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine with a high-output electric motor to deliver a claimed output of more than 223kW and a 0-100km/h time of about 6.0 seconds.

According to Mr Buttner, the 3.3-litre V6 petrol-electric RX400h also offers startling performance.

With both electric and petrol engines working, the V6 develops 200kW, and has a 0-100km/h time of 7.6 seconds. It also has combined fuel economy of 8.1L/100km.

Toyota Australia is currently trialling an RX ahead of the launch.

"I see that as a tremendous opportunity for us given the effort Toyota globally has put into pushing hybrid technology," he said. "If you look at when the Prius was first launched, it was built off-line and now with the second generation it’s built on-line using the full Toyota production systems.

"The volumes have gone up so therefore the suppliers that have been brought on board are now getting some volume, so they’re reaping the benefits of mass production.

"So, when you look at the other product being released around the world, I’d be very keen one day to have a Camry hybrid here." Earlier this year, Toyota in the United States announced that the next-generation 2007 Camry would be available there with a V6 hybrid and Mr Buttner believes such a car could be available here within six years.

He said Toyota Australia was buoyed by the growing success of the Prius hybrid, which was continuing to build momentum.

With petrol around $1.20 a litre it was developing a strong private-buyer following with fuel-conscious buyers, Mr Buttner said.

Private and user-chooser fleet customers buy about 30 per cent of Priuses, up substantially from the first-generation model.

So far this year Toyota has sold 781 Priuses, up from last year’s 533 YTD. If the sales pace continues, the Prius will eclipse last year’s sales of 1094.

In tandem with the growing interest in hybrids, Mr Buttner believes common-rail diesel engines will also grow in the Australian passenger car market, despite some concerns about diesel infrastructure at petrol stations.

"Overall, the diesel market hasn’t taken off here like Europe but with the Toyota-Peugeot tie-up in Europe I expect to see more diesel offerings," he said.

However, he stressed there was "nothing definite on the cards for diesel passenger cars here" in the Toyota range. "But there is a possibility here eventually," he said.

Mr Buttner also said Toyota would continue to keep a wary eye on the debate between government and motoring organisations concerning the call for special driver’s licences for large 4WDs.

"I’m not going to be Nostradamus and try and predict what may happen there but certainly there is enough public debate to make sure we keep an eye on it," he said.

Although cautious in suggesting that these special licences were inevitable, Mr Buttner said the issue was something the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, as the industry’s representative body, would continue to monitor.

"If it gains popular support and gets through then I guess we just have to move with the industry." With the total SUV market, including compact, medium and large vehicles, growing by 78 per cent since 2000, any prospective changes to 4WD licensing would have a big impact, he said.

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