Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., speaks to the...

Takeshi Uchiyamada, chairman of Toyota Motor Corp., speaks to the Economic Club of Washington in Washington, D.C. (Sept. 30, 2013) Credit: Bloomberg News

Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, who headed development of the Prius, said automakers should step up their efforts on hybrids so cumulative U.S. sales will reach 5 million in three years.

“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,” Uchiyamada said at the Economic Club of Washington Sept. 30, in his first U.S. speech as chairman. “I wish to call on the industry to sell 5 million hybrids in the U.S. by the end of 2016.”

That’s 72 percent more than the 2.9 million hybrids sold in the U.S. until August, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates. The Toyota City, Japan-based carmaker is the world’s largest producer of gasoline-electric hybrids, with the company estimating to have sold more than 3 million Prius vehicles since they first went on sale in 1997.

“Some people say hybrid vehicles such as the Prius are only a bridge to the future,” Uchiyamada said. “But we think it could be a long bridge and a very sturdy one.”

Longer term, the company is betting on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The company plans to offer a fuel-cell sedan in 2015.

“Perhaps 15 years from now, we can meet again here in Washington and we will know exactly which system has prevailed,” said Uchiyamada, who’s known within Toyota as the “father of the Prius.” “By that time, if I am still around, I may be the great-grandfather.”

Fuel Cells

General Motors Co. announced today it’s expanding a fuel- cell research partnership with the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center.

Toyota doesn’t plan to build hydrogen stations even though the company sees the infrastructure as “another large hurdle” for fuel-cell cars, as charging stations are for electric vehicles, Uchiyamada told reporters after the speech.

“We’re not an infrastructure company, so we can’t make the infrastructure ourselves,” he said. “Fuel-cell vehicles will penetrate to a certain degree but maybe not as much as hybrid vehicles.”

Toyota is also making progress in developing autonomous vehicles, Uchiyamada said, while cautioning that the first ones won’t allow drivers to “ drink champagne and have fun” behind the wheel.

“The cars that are being tested right now, development is not being done to create that kind of driverless car,” he said. “At the end, each and every one of you will have the responsibility to drive that car.”

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