Hybrids Are Here to Stay
Interspersed with Camry sedans in red and blue and black, some of the greenest cars ever manufactured -- fuel efficient Prius hybrids -- glide down assembly lines at Toyota Motor Corp.'s Tsutsumi plant in Toyota City, Japan. There, production hums along as workers install brakes, dashboards, and -- for the Prius models in the mix -- giant battery packs under the back seats. The smashing success of the Prius, which now boasts long waiting lists at many dealerships in the U.S., is testimony to the ingenuity of the Japanese engineers who toiled in the 1990s to make gas-electric hybrid vehicles more than a futuristic pipe dream.
At Toyota, Takehisa Yaegashi is known as "father of the hybrid" for his role as head of the Prius project. The soft-spoken 62-year old, now Toyota's senior manager of hybrid engine development, recently spoke to BusinessWeek's Chester Dawson about Toyota's effort to mass produce hybrids. Following are edited excerpts:
Q: Why was Toyota first to bring mass-produced hybrids to market?
A: It all started about the time there was talk of much stricter emissions regulations in California back in the early 1990s. But [what became known as] the G21 project was about much more than that. It was about developing an all new vehicle package -- a midsize compact for many markets globally, not just the U.S. Of course, the stricter environmental regulations in the U.S. were a big incentive to go ahead with the project.
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