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Toyota, Honda, DaimlerChrysler unveil hybrids

Surprising industry observers, Toyota has unveiled a gas-electric sports utility vehicle that will be ready for the 2005 market. While mileage estimates haven't been released, Toyota says its hybrid Highlander will have the fuel economy of a four-cylinder compact sedan.
The Toyota hybrid Highlander was unveiled Sunday at the North American International Auto Show.Paul Sancya / AP
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Surprising industry observers at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Toyota has unveiled a gas-electric sports utility vehicle that will be ready for the 2005 market. Honda and DaimlerChrysler made their own surprise hybrid announcements Monday, Honda saying it will have a V-6, gas-electric Accord by fall and DaimlerChrysler unveiling a diesel-electric V8, 314 horsepower Mercedes sports car that gets 30 mpg.

Toyota said a hybrid version of its Highlander SUV will have the fuel economy of a four-cylinder compact sedan.

"The Highlander Hybrid is the world's first seven-passenger hybrid SUV," said Jim Press, a Toyota USA executive vice president said in a statement. "The addition of a hybrid system in our best-selling SUV provides further evidence that Toyota's commitment to hybrid technology will continue to run deep and wide."

The hybrid Highlander follows Toyota's success with the hybrid Prius sedan. The least polluting and highest mileage four-door sedan sold in America, the Prius was named car of the year at the auto show. It earlier was named car of the year by Motor Trend magazine.

Last month, Toyota raised its production of the Prius, saying it would aim to sell 47,000 in the United States in 2004, up from its original plan of 36,000 for the car, which was launched in mid-October.

Don Esmond, senior vice president and general manager of Toyota’s U.S. sales arm, said the company has 16,000 back orders for the Prius. “It’s the hottest-selling vehicle we have,” Esmond said.

Until the surprise unveiling of the gas-electric Highlander, Toyota's only other hybrid promise had been for a Lexus SUV by yearend. On Tuesday, Toyota said that model would be called the RX 400h.

A small “h” will be placed next to the Lexus icon, represented by the letter “L” inside an oval border. “'Lexus to the power of h’ will be the visual and verbal icon for this tremendous new technology and a new vehicle that will grow the Lexus brand,” said Lexus group Vice President Denny Clements.

Press said the trio of hybrids "will not only give consumers a broadband of hybrid-powered choices, it will firmly establish this important new technology in the hearts and minds of mainstream consumers."

Honda is the only other carmaker currently selling hybrids in the United States. Its two-door Insight was the first hybrid in America, and Honda also sells a hybrid Civic.

The upcoming V6 hybrid Accord will have the fuel economy of a four-cylinder Civic, Honda said.

Ford plans a hybrid Escape SUV by early 2005, while General Motors says it will offer GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado hybrid pickups this summer.

DaimlerChrysler, whose first hybrid will be a Dodge Ram pickup later this year, on Monday unveiled a hybrid, six-seat Vision Grand Sports Tourer that the company says is about a year from production for the American market. A V-8 diesel/electric hybrid engine is designed to reduce fuel consumption and emissions without compromising performance.

Toyota did not say when the hybrid Highlander would be available in showrooms, nor did it set a base price.

Toyota said the 3.3-liter, V6 Highlander Hybrid will be powered by a more powerful version of the hybrid system powering the Prius. Features include:

  • A larger-capacity battery that will deliver nearly double the power of the battery in the Prius.
  • An all-new high-speed electric motor will operate at twice the speed and deliver more than twice the power as the motor in the Prius.
  • Improved acceleration from the existing zero-to-60 mph in under 8 seconds.

Like the Prius, the Highlander will monitor the electric-gas power distribution on a seven-inch touch-panel display monitor.