TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp.'s commitment to hybrid automobiles was on display yesterday when the company unveiled its most expensive gasoline-electric vehicle, the $124,000 Lexus LS luxury sedan.
Executives at Japan's No. 1 automaker, convinced that hybrid cars are the way of the future, are betting that growing consumer concern about the environment and higher gas prices will lure even wealthy buyers to the new model. It went on sale yesterday in Japan and will arrive later elsewhere around the world.
Executive vice president Masatami Takimoto rejected the idea that hybrids were "a transitional technology" that would be replaced by more advanced ecological technology in the future.
"As long as cars exist, the need for hybrid technology will remain," Takimoto said.
Toyota, which introduced its first hybrid, the Prius, 10 years ago, sold about 300,000 hybrids worldwide last year, and it said it planned to sell one million hybrids a year sometime after 2010.
Although all the world's automakers are working on hybrids, Japan's largest automaker has dozens of patents on the technology and has sold more hybrids than any other automaker.
The most common hybrids today switch between a gas engine and electric motor to deliver better mileage and reduce emissions.
But Toyota president Katsuaki Watanabe said the technology for hybrid systems could be applied to power other types of vehicles, which run on fuel other than gas, including biofuels and hydrogen.
"The hybrid system is a core technology that can be applied anywhere," Watanabe told reporters.
Toyota already had introduced two other hybrid Lexus models.
Starting next month, it will roll out gradually in Europe, North America and Asia, including China, and other regions.
Toyota expects to sell 7,000 Lexus LS cars in 2007, including 4,000 in Japan. The company did not give other regional breakdowns.
The success of hybrids has been a big plus for Toyota's image at a time when concerns about the global environment and soaring gas prices are growing. Watanabe said he hoped hybrid Lexus models would further enhance Toyota's value.