Toyota Motor Corp. plans to test hundreds of plug-in hybrid vehicles with fleet and commercial customers worldwide by the end of 2010, company executives said Monday.
Plug-in hybrids can be recharged from a regular household outlet and generally have another power source on board to run the vehicles when the batteries become depleted.
The Japanese automaker is working on the necessary lithium-ion battery technology and is partnering with Panasonic to mass produce the batteries and produce its first plug-in, President Katsuaki Watanabe told reporters in Detroit.
Watanabe also said he has encouraged his company's engineers to meet stronger U.S. fuel economy standards before the deadline of 2020, though he gave no specific date.
Company officials said that when the plug-ins make it to showrooms depends a lot on their ability to mass produce the batteries and the usage by fleet and commercial customers.
Toyota has a sufficient lithium-ion battery in its laboratory and can produce them in small quantities, he said.
"There is a huge difference in producing a large volume," Watanabe said.
Toyota also is planning to have powertrains ready to accommodate all fuel sources, whether it be diesel, electric or ethanol, he said.
"There is no single solution that can solve all the problems," of fuel efficiency and pollution, Watanabe said.
Automakers have versions of plug-in hybrids with conventional diesel and gasoline engines, and those that run on ethanol. They also are testing hydrogen fuel cell powertrains.
Toyota's announcement is a challenge to General Motors Corp., which has said it is trying to bring the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car to consumers sometime in 2010.
The Volt prototype, unveiled at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, would run on an electric motor, with another power plant on board to recharge the batteries when they become depleted.
Watanabe also said Toyota will expand its hybrid vehicle lineup with a Lexus and a new Toyota, to be announced in Detroit in 2008.