TRAVERSE CITY, United States (AFP) - Japan's Toyota Motor Co. said it was working on 10 new hybrid vehicles, after seeing sales of the environmentally friendly autos rocket in the United States.
Jim Press, president of Toyota Motor Sales USA, said the world's second-biggest car maker aims by early in the next decade to sell a million hybrid vehicles a year globally.
Of that total, 600,000 would be sold in the United States.
"To us, it's not a passing phase, but a vital technology for the 21st century," Press said at the annual Center for Automotive Research conference here.
Toyota was the first automaker to introduce a hybrid vehicle powered by a combination of gasoline (petrol) and electricity.
Two years after it was introduced, Toyota's hugely successful Prius still has a waiting list and some buyers are waiting more than six months for delivery.
Hybrid sales in the United States are expected to surge to 1.2 million units by 2008, according to research by Oak Ridge Labs.
"People are buying hybrids for good reasons beyond fuel economy," Press said.
"They realize hybrids are a simply way to make an important difference in curtailing foreign-oil dependence, air pollution, and greenhouse gases."
To meet its sales target, Toyota will have to add hybrid engines across its vehicle fleet, including trucks.
The automaker launched a luxury hybrid -- the Lexus RX 400h sports utility vehicle -- in April and began selling the Toyota Highlander Hybrid in June.
"Both offer the power of a V8 (engine), the mileage of an automatic Mini Cooper, and 80 percent less smog-forming emissions than conventional SUVs," Press said.
An average SUV will consumer 20 liters (five gallons) of gas over a 100 kilometer (62 mile) trip, compared to a hybrid which will take just four to five liters (1.1 to 1.3 gallons) of gasoline.
Next year, Toyota plans to introduce two more hybrids -- the Lexus GS hybrid sedan and a Camry hybrid built in the automaker's Kentucky plant.
Japanese rival Honda Motor Co. currently has three hybrid vehicles while Ford Motor Co. has two hybrids in the market and three more in development.
General Motors Corp., Chrysler and Nissan Motor Co. also have hybrids in development.
Press said that hybrids are part of Toyota's broader commitment to reducing the environmental impact of its vehicles.
"While we're happily cranking out more than 170,000 new vehicles each day globally, the cumulative number of vehicles we produce is taking a toll on the air we breathe, the roads we travel and the safety of our families, country and planet," he said.
Toyota is also working on clean diesel, natural gas and fuel-cell vehicles.
Fuel cells offer the best long-term solution for reducing pollution, Press said. Fuel cells produce electricity through a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen, leaving water as the only by-product.
A number of automakers have developed prototypes but they have not yet found a way to produce them at commercially viable prices, while the infrastructure needed to deliver hydrogen to drivers is lacking.
General Motors, the world's biggest car maker, and Toyota were planning shortly to launch a fuel-cell joint venture.
But according to a report in Japan's Asahi Shimbun newspaper last week, the two firms are to scrap the venture over a disagreement on how much technology to share with each other.
Nevertheless, cooperation among automakers remains the way forward, Press said.
"Think what we could do with issues like CAFE (corporate average fuel economy) and global warming if we join hands and develop our own visions for the future, rather than waiting for regulators to do it for us," he said.
"Let's drive the process and not get run over by it."