yoshi inaba toyotaSpeaking at the Economic Club of Chicago during the Chicago Auto Show last week, the president and COO of Toyota Motor North America, Yoshi Inaba, laid out his company's near-future plans, and made about as strong a case for hybrids as you're likely to hear this month. This is to be expected, since Toyota is going to launch 19 new or updated vehicles this year (including some from the Scion and Lexus brands) and, Inaba said, "nearly half will be hybrids or electric vehicles."

Now, it's clear that Toyota wants to increase sales of it's most popular hybrids, the Prius family models. In Chicago, Inaba made the point that increased Prius sales would benefit the U.S. by reducing the amount of gasoline we need. In fact, he said, studies show that "if everyone in the U.S. drove a Prius, we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil by 70 percent."

Inaba talked up all the Toyota brand's hybrids, including the Highlander SUV, and gave that gas-electric a U.S. connection by announcing that it will soon be built in America. To date, all the Highlander hybrids have been built in Japan, even though some non-hybrid versions are built in Princeton, IN. Following a $400-million investment in that plant, Toyota will be able to make 50,000 more Highlanders there each year, some of them hybrids. Inaga said this will directly create 400 jobs as well over 1,000 indirect "spin off" jobs.

Source: Autoblog Green