NAGOYA -- Toyota Motor will roll out more hybrid vehicles in Japan, wanting them to account for one in two cars sold domestically by next year.
Japan's biggest automaker is trying to keep pace with criteria for tax breaks for buyers of fuel-efficient, low-emission cars. An estimated 80% or more of cars sold in Japan now qualify for tax savings under the so-called eco-car program. But only about half of new cars are expected to make the grade after stricter standards take effect next month.
Almost all gasoline-powered cars will carry a bigger tax burden than now, according to the Japan Automobile Dealers Association. Increases may run as high as 100,000 yen ($836) or so.
Toyota sold 684,000 hybrids in Japan last year. It expects to sell 760,000 in 2016 amid smaller volume overall, according to internal plans shared with parts suppliers. At this level, hybrids would account for roughly half of Toyota's domestic sales, up from 44% last year.
Meanwhile, its Japanese production of hybrids would grow by about 30% compared with 2014 output to 1.32 million, the plans show. This would make more than 40% of Toyotas built in Japan hybrids.
The newest version of its Prius hybrid, due out this year, will be the world's most fuel-efficient car, getting at least 40km per liter of gasoline. By next year, Toyota plans to sell a plug-in type that can go 60km on battery power alone, more than twice as far as the current model. A compact hybrid SUV will go into production at a subsidiary factory in northern Japan as soon as next year.
Partly as a result of this trend in Toyota sales, hybrids are likely to account for 40% of cars sold in Japan, excluding commercial vehicles and minicars. The ratio in North America remains in the single digits. In Europe, where diesels account for roughly half of sales, hybrids have made even less of a dent in the market. Selling more hybrids in Japan could boost Toyota's cost competitiveness, helping it export them in greater numbers.
Fuji Heavy Industries, the company behind the Subaru brand, will introduce a hybrid version of its Impreza Sport hatchback as soon as May. Priced in the lower 2 million yen range, it is expected to meet the more stringent eco-car standards. Honda Motor released the Jade hybrid minivan in February and plans to roll out a hybrid version of its Odyssey van sometime this year.