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'Father Of The Prius' Stresses: Hybrids More Important To Toyota Than Electric Cars


2013 Toyota Prius liftback

2013 Toyota Prius liftback

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For Toyota chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, hybrids are still the future.

The man known as the "Father of the Prius" said Toyota still views hybrids as its top priority for reducing fuel use, even as competitors concentrate on electric cars, diesels, and other powertrain technologies.

“Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future,” Uchiyamada told the Economic Club of Washington on Monday.

“But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one; there are many more gains we can achieve with hybrids.”

The Japanese automaker has sold more than 5 million hybrid vehicles worldwide, and is preparing its fourth-generation 2015 Toyota Prius for its showroom debut.

"In each of the previous moves to a new generation, we achieved a 10 percent increase in mileage per gallon," Uchiyamada said.

"We are committed to beating that record this time."

2012 Toyota Prius V

2012 Toyota Prius V

Enlarge Photo

Uchiyamada called on the industry to sell 5 million hybrids in the United States by the end of 2016.

He suggested that the company only achieved "great goals" when it put its employees "under the same kind of intense pressure we faced" when it developed the very first Prius in the mid-1990s.

Uchiyamada believes range anxiety and long charging times still make electric cars impractical, saying it will take two breakthroughs in battery technology before the industry reaches the "age of electric vehicles."

He said hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, like the one Toyota plans to unveil at this year's Tokyo Motor Show, could be a better alternative.

"I personally expect a lot from this hydrogen fuel-cell technology," he said.

Uchiyamada also discussed another technology, car-to-car communication, that he believes can reduce emissions by reducing traffic congestion.

The main obstacles to such a system, he said, were creating a seamless network among vehicles from different manufacturers and the infrastructure, and getting sources other than automakers to pay for that research and development work.

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