Toyota Said to Consider Offering Version of Prius Hybrid to GM



Toyota Said to Consider Offering Version of Prius Hybrid to GM

By Alan Ohnsman and Kae Inoue

June 30 (Bloomberg) — Toyota Motor Corp. may offer to supply a version of its Prius hybrid car to General Motors Corp. during a meeting between the companies’ chief executives, two people familiar with the plan said.

Toyota President Akio Toyoda and GM’s Fritz Henderson will meet in Michigan in August said the people, who asked not to be identified because the plan isn’t public. A GM-badged car based on the Prius is among the options for new products at a jointly owned factory in California after GM said it would end assembly of the Pontiac Vibe at the plant earlier than planned.

A version of the world’s top-selling hybrid car may help bankrupt GM win U.S. customers and would give it an incentive to keep open the joint-venture factory. Toyota is also considering the plant as a Prius production site after shelving plans to make the gasoline-electric car in Mississippi, two people familiar with the matter told Bloomberg earlier this month.

“Having a stronger line-up is an urgent matter for GM,” said Yoshihiro Okumura, who helps oversee the equivalent of $365 million at Tokyo-based Chiba-gin Asset Management Co. “Demand will continue to shift to small cars.”

GM currently has eight hybrid models, two of which are Saturns, a brand that GM is selling to Penske Automotive Group Inc. Of GM’s remaining six hybrids, only one, the Chevy Malibu, is a car, according to its web site.

Pat Morrissey, a spokesman for GM, declined to comment on any technology-sharing relationship with Toyota.

GM will launch the plug-in electric Chevrolet Volt next year and plans to have 14 hybrid models in 2012, the automaker said June 1 as part of its bankruptcy filing.

Nummi’s Fate

GM said earlier this month it will stop building Vibes in August at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., the only large auto-assembly plant on the U.S. west coast, ahead of the Detroit-based company’s initial plan to cut the hatchback in 2010. Toyota, the world’s largest automaker, and GM, the second largest, have shared the factory, known as Nummi, since 1984.

“We have been in discussions with Toyota about potential future products. We have not figured out a product that meets the needs of Toyota or ourselves,” Troy Clarke, president of GM North America, said during a June 26 conference call. “That dialogue continues.”

Clarke told reporters on June 19 that GM is not in current talks to license Toyota’s hybrid system.

“Nothing has been decided other than halting the production of the Vibe at Nummi,” said Hideaki Homma, a Tokyo- based spokesman for the company. “A meeting of the executives is also not under consideration.”

Ford Arrangement

Ford Motor Co. licenses Toyota patents as part of its hybrid program, while GM has turned down those opportunities in the past, said Jim Hall, principal of 2953 Analytics auto- consulting firm in Birmingham, Michigan. It might make sense if GM also shares component development for its sedans with Toyota, he said.

“Toyota is not normally in the practice of giving away the crown jewels,” Hall said.

It probably doesn’t make sense to put a hybrid vehicle in Nummi, Hall said. For GM, it would make more sense to share mid- sized pickups such as the Chevrolet Colorado with the Toyota Tacoma, which is built in Nummi now, he said.

Toyota and GM have shared the Fremont, California, plant since 1984. While GM owns half of the plant, Toyota models accounted for 76 percent of output through June 27, according to trade publication Automotive News.

The factory has capacity to make 420,000 cars and trucks a year and employs about 5,400 people, according to the plant’s Web site. In addition to Vibe, which is a version of Toyota’s Matrix hatchback, Nummi builds Corolla small cars and Tacoma pickups.

Toyota on Dec. 15 said it would halt work on the $1.3 billion Blue Springs, Mississippi, factory after plunging U.S. sales created excess capacity at its North American plants. The company early this year said it would pay the interest on bonds issued by Mississippi for plant-related infrastructure.

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