Toyota to Expand Portfolio of Hybrid Vehicles

Toyota Motor (TM) is already the largest maker of hybrid vehicles, offering seven different models in the U.S. market. But the automaker's plans call for it introduce six new models by the end of 2012 and to offer two plug-in hybrid vehicles, including a version of its popular Prius to be marketed as the least expensive car of its kind.

The introduction of six new hybrid models will raise Toyota's worldwide total to 20 hybrids, which use a combination of a gasoline- and electricity-powered engines, Reuters reported. The world's largest automaker, however, has been slower to move to offer all-electric or plug-in hybrids, unlike rivals Nissan Motors (NSANY) and General Motors.

Toyota's decision to introduce two plug-in hybrids is a direct counter to GM's Chevrolet Volt, which debuts later this year. Speaking in Detroit on Monday, Toyota product development chief Takeshi Uchiyamada said the automaker would aim to have a plug-in version of its Prius priced "so close to the current version that customers really have to hesitate and think about it," Reuters reported.

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Currently, prices for Prius models start at under $24,000. Toyota said it expects the plug-in version to cost about $3,000 to $5,000 more, putting in the range of $28,000. That's considerably less than the $41,000 GM is asking for the Volt. It's also cheaper than the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which sells for about $33,000.

Toyota expects to begin selling a plug-in, rechargeable version of its Prius by June 2012, Reuters said. It expects to sell about 20,000 of the vehicles in the first year. The automaker is also developing a plug-in version of its RAV4 compact sports-utility vehicle, in collaboration with electric sports-car maker Tesla Motors (TSLA).

Further, Toyota is looking at the viability of introducing a hydrogen-powered vehicle to the U.S. market by 2015, but that effort requires costs to be cut by 95% as well as the establishment of a sufficient hydrogen refueling network.

Separately, Uchiyamada said Toyota has yet to find evidence of unintended acceleration in 150 Toyota vehicles, which were reported to have been involved in crashes, Detroit Free Press reported. Toyota has recalled some 8 million cars worldwide for the problem, which Toyota has blamed on sticky gas pedals and bulky floor mats.

Toyota's examination of the suspect cars' event data recorders, or black boxes, has shown no evidence of acceleration without driver input, Toyota said. Still, the company did find a software bug in some of readers used to download the recorders, but Uchiyamada said that flaw has been fixed.