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In looks the only thing that distinguishes it from its whitegoods-on-wheels sedan sibling are the Hybrid badges along the car's flanks and boot. Toyota this week confirmed plans to produce 10,000 Camry Hybrid sedans a year from its Melbourne plant with the first hybrid to roll off the factory floor in about 18 months. The Federal Government will give Toyota $35 million from its $500-million Green Car Innovation Fund. Toyota says this money could help subsidise the likely higher cost of the hybrid vehicle.
Those who have driven it, including Carsguide's Bruce McMahon who drove the US version several months ago, say it handles like the petrol-engine Camry.
The Synergy Hybrid system is shared with the Prius, a more expensive $37,400 hatch.
The Camry Hybrid is expected to carry a $5000 premium over the standard Camry 2.4 Altise, which is $28,490, but will gain more equipment to justify the price hike.
Two models are expected to be sold when the facelifted Camry hits showrooms.
Toyota Australia sales and marketing boss David Buttner believes pricing will need to be comparable to diesels, which also command a price premium above petrol-engined cars.
Under the bonnet, the Camry Hybrid will get Toyota's proven 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine mated to its Synergy drive system.
Based on figures for the US version, Toyota expects the local model to deliver about 140kW in tandem with both petrol and electric motors.
The US version has a combined economy figure of about 7.0 litres per 100km and has a 30 per cent improvement in emissions over the petrol model.
This compares to a combined fuel economy figure of 9.9 litres per 100km for the local 2.4-litre four cylinder.
Initially the hybrid's engine, hybrid drive system, battery pack, gearbox and front axle assembly will all be imported from Japan and slotted into the Camry on the same production line that builds the Aurion at Altona.
Like the Prius, the car's battery pack sits between the rear axles, taking up little boot space. An on-board monitor set in the middle of the dashboard provides key information about the hybrid drive system.
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The Synergy system adds just 27kg to the car's overall weight. The car will share the Prius's three-year/100,000km warranty and five-year battery warranty. Toyota expects to build 10,000 a year with the Victorian Government already signing up for 2000 cars over two years.
Other government fleets are expected to follow suit to soak up most of the production, with sales also targeting fleets, rental companies and private buyers.
Buttner says Toyota's decision to build the car was not conditional on funding from the Federal Government Green Car Innovation Fund, which kicks in from 2011. Nor had the Government committed to buy Camry Hybrids as a sweetener.
Despite this, both the Federal and Victorian governments kicked in $35 million each for the car. However, despite all of the hoopla surrounding the announcement this week there was no news of any incentives or tax breaks that could seduce private buyers into a Camry Hybrid.
Toyota Australia president and CEO Max Yasuda has urged governments to provide tangible and intangible incentives for cars such as the Camry Hybrid. Free parking and commuter lanes similar to those available in California could help lure buyers into the cars, Yasuda says.
Ford has yet to make any commitment, but Honda has a Civic hybrid and has introduced a “cylinder cut” system that deactivates cylinders to save fuel in its V6 Accord.
Federal Industry Minister Kim Carr is planning to meet carmakers Ford and General Motors in the US this week.
“This is an industry that's been under a bit of pressure,” Carr says. “The government wants to work with the industry in meeting the challenges of the future, and that means reducing the impact on people's wallets and reducing the impact on the environment.”
Carr says the impact of the car industry in Australia flowed on to other industries.
Meanwhile, experts say it is a positive step. “It's not enough in the longer term but we have to do everything we can in the short term,” says Monash University fellow and former chief of CSIRO Atmospheric Research, Graeme Pearman.
He says hybrid cars work best in “stop-start” driving, while supercharged diesel engines offer benefits for long distances.
“There's no reason why we shouldn't eventually have hybrid diesels,” Pearman says.
“All of these things eventually will probably be only a transition to all-electric cars ... once we have ways of generating the electricity that itself doesn't generate greenhouse gas emissions.”