CHICAGO Toyota Motor
Corp. has expanded its North American manufacturing footprint
over the past year to boost capacity and increase exports, and
an executive said it is preparing to dominate the hybrid
The automaker is spending $1.5
billion to open new manufacturing plants and expand existing
ones, Toyota Motor Sales USA Inc. president and chief executive
officer James E. Lentz said at Bank of America Merrill Lynch
& Co. Inc.s 2013 New York Auto Summit.
Toyota operates 14 plants in
North America, producing 70 percent of the companys
vehicles sold here.
"Our manufacturing plants are
nearing capacity. Some of the expansions help accommodate the
increase in our North American-built exports, which jumped
nearly 45 percent last year. We expect (export) numbers to
increase again this year," Lentz told industry analysts, noting
that Toyota ships U.S.-assembled vehicles to 21 countries.
"With this boost in
manufacturing plants and shift needs, we added 3,500 jobs in
the past 13 months," he said.
The Toyota City, Japan-based
automaker has 11 Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles on the
market. While only 3 to 3.5 percent of the global
industrys vehicle output consists of hybrid models,
Toyotas proportion is closer to 14 to 15 percent.
"Were taking a portfolio
approach, offering a variety of alternative-fuel choices,
including plug-in hybrids, electric vehicles and, in 2015, our
first fuel-cell hybrid," Lentz said. "We strongly believe
hybrids will remain the core technology because our hybrid
system can easily be adapted to other powertrains."
Toyota and Lexus sold more than
1 million hybrids worldwide last year, three years ahead of
schedule. "Were just getting started," Lentz said. "We
plan on launching 20 new or redesigned hybrids globally by the
end of 2015."
As corporate average fuel
economy standards mandate 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025,
"hybrids are going to be more accepted by the public than
electric vehicles (EVs) may be today," Lentz predicted. "EVs
will play a role, but until theres a significant change
in the technology of batteries, its not going to be
Lentz said he drives a Prius
plug-in, averaging 74 miles per gallon. "At some point, you
have to ask, Why would I even consider switching to
another alternative-type vehicle like an electric when I can
get 74 miles per gallon (and) 700-plus miles of range? As
more and more consumers realize that, demand is going to
continue to build on hybrid," he said.