Detroit 2008: Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe pops in at party with surprise announcements

For the last several years Toyota has held an annual get together following the close of the first day of media previews at the Detroit Auto Show. This year's shin-dig brought with it several surprises. Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe made an unannounced appearance and delivered about a ten minute address to the gathered crowd of automotive hacks. He reviewed Toyota's commitment to sustainable mobility. Toyota plans to continue developing a variety of advanced technologies including hybrids, clean diesels and hydrogen fuel cells. They plan to work on and promote a changes in transportation such as mass transit, mixed mobility, and intelligent highway systems. Mixed mobility includes ideas like the iGo personal transporters that Toyota has been showing in the last couple of years. Fueling systems for future vehicles such as hydrogen fueling stations and recharging kiosks will be developed and promoted by Toyota in partnerships with governments, academia and other energy and transportation companies.
One important element for Toyota is developing new technologies in-house rather purchasing or licensing from outside companies. In this way they can learn the lessons of the development and work faster. Among the new power-trains Toyota plans to introduce in the near future are a clean diesel engine for the large Tundra pickup and Sequoia SUV. Toyota Communications VP was unable to confirm if the engine recently introduced in overseas market Land Cruisers would be the basis for the US engine but that seems likely. No on-sale date was available for the new diesel although Miller did confirm that the new fuel economy requirements were part of the decision. With all three US automakers introducing light duty diesels to their trucks next year, Toyota surely won't want to be far behind.

Continue reading what else Watanabe had to say after the jump.

[Source: Toyota]

Watanabe reiterated that hybrids remain and important part of Toyota's plans and next years show would see the launch of two new dedicated hybrids, one each for the Toyota and Lexus brands. The Toyota will likely be the next generation of Prius. The year after that the company will introduce a test fleet of several hundred plug-in hybrids using lithium ion battery packs. The PHEVs will go governmental, academic and commercial fleets in Asia, Europe and US for large scale field testing before eventually being made available to consumers. The lithium batteries will be coming from Toyota's joint venture with Panasonic which produces the current NiMH batteries used in the company's hybrids.

Watanabe also confirmed that feasibility studies have begun to add an automotive lithium battery line to the Panasonic EV plant in Japan. Irv Miller also wasn't able to tell us what type of lithium chemistry Toyota and Panasonic are persuing. Watanabe emphasized that Toyota is following multiple development paths and spends an average of over $1 million per hour on research and development. One path Toyota likely won't be following anytime soon is large hybrid trucks such as GM's Two-Modes. According to Miller, the current Toyota hybrid system doesn't really scale well to such large high torque applications. Instead the diesel engines will be used to provide the efficiency improvements needed in that segment. Whatever Toyota ultimately comes up with it sounds like we're in for some interesting times ahead.

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