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Toyota announces 6 new hybrids, electric cars

by Peter Valdes-Dapena, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Toyota Motor Co. will put out six all-new hybrid vehicles worldwide by 2012, a Toyota spokesman confirmed.

The vehicles will all be new models, not updated versions of current models like the Prius, Toyota spokesman John Hanson said.

Toyota has partnered with Tesla Motors on an electric version of the Rav4 compact SUV.

Toyota is not yet revealing whether the new cars will be sold but the U.S. is Toyota's biggest market for hybrid cars by a wide margin, Hanson said, so it be reasonable to assume most, if not all, of the six new hybrids will be for sale here. All six will be conventional gasoline/electric hybrids, not plug-in cars.

The automaker had previously said that Prius, the name of its popular hybrid car, would be attached to a new line of hybrid-only vehicles in the U.S. The current Prius accounts for about half of all hybrid vehicle sales in America. It's Toyota's third most popular car here, after the Camry and Corolla.

Still, hybrid vehicles are a tiny percentage of U.S. car sales.

Toyota is also working on two plug-in electric cars, both due to hit the market in 2012. One will be a tiny commuter car with about 50 mile range. The other, an electric version of the Toyota Rav4 SUV, is a vehicle Toyota is developing in partnership with luxury electric car maker Tesla Motors.

"We'll let the consumer decide which, if either fits your needs," Hanson said.

The electric Rav4, which had been announced previously, will be officially unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November, Hanson said.

Toyota still doesn't believe that electric cars will be big business anytime soon.

"We still see the electric vehicle market as a niche market with slow growth until we can begin to get the pricing down," he said, "and of course pricing is directly related to battery cost."

One of the reasons Toyota partnered with Tesla, Hanson said, was to learn more about Tesla's strategy of using "commodity" batteries to create its battery packs rather than using highly specialized batteries developed specifically for automotive use.

For now, both the electric commuter car and the electric Rav4 will have driving ranges too short to satisfy many car buyers, Hanson said. Even at 100 miles, he said, the Rav4's driving range is still very short compared to a gasoline-powered car. For instance, a gasoline-powered Rav4 gets 343 miles on one tank of gasoline.

Toyota also plans to begin selling a plug-in hybrid version of the Toyota Prius in 2012. That car will be gasoline/electric hybrid which can take on additional power by plugging into a wall outlet instead of self-generating all the electricity it uses. To top of page

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