There was a time not long ago that Toyota’s Prius was the only hybrid vehicle on the road, single handedly leading the charge toward a future where fuel efficient cars could be affordable and practical enough to be the rule, not the exception.
Since the Prius was unveiled in Japan in 1997, plenty of automakers have come up with their own electric or hybrid model vehicles, and sales continue to soar in North America. However, Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman, believes car manufacturers need to start doing even more in order to see U.S. sales of hybrids reach five million in the next three years.
Speaking to the Economic Club in Washington on September 30, Uchiyamada, who is Chairman of the Club, said, “It’s only when we put ourselves under the same kind of intense pressure we faced in developing the Prius that we can achieve great goals. I wish to call on the industry to sell 5 million hybrids in the U.S. by the end of 2016.”
From January to August of 2013, hybrid total sales number was 2.9 million; Uchiyamada is looking to see that figure increase by nearly 72%. Since 1997, when the Prius was first available to the public, Toyota has sold three million of them worldwide. Toyota remains the largest producer of hybrids in the world.
“Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future,” Uchiyamada told the Club. “But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one.”
So how can automakers see their hybrid sales increase? Toyota is leading the charge on that as well by investing in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles they plan to begin selling in 2015. General Motors also announced they are expanding their fuel-cell research partnership with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.
Still, Uchiyamada cautioned fuel-cell vehicles aren’t likely to penetrate the market the same way hybrids have, but are yet another alternative consumers will have to choose from. Toyota was also recently honored for their green initiatives in vehicle manufacturing when they received the highest overall green score in the history of Green Car Guide for their 2013 Toyota RAV4 EV.
One car the nicknamed “father of the Prius” doesn’t think will see the light of day? An autonomous vehicle. While Uchiyamada acknowledged the technology is being tested and developed, “at the end of the day, each and every (person) will have the responsibility of driving that car.”