Toyota cuts down on ‘hybrid miles’

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Ecologically minded types often criticise the so-called food miles racked up by out-of-season fruit and veg imported from other continents by our supermarket chains but what about the ‘hybrid miles’ their favourite runabout, the Toyota Prius, clocks up before it reaches the hands of its owner?

A Prius may be economical and have low emissions but it weighs about 1.4 tonnes and has to be shipped thousands of miles from Japan before it turns a wheel for the first time in Europe or North America.

It is slowly dawning on buyers that they need to look at the entire life cycle of cars, rather than just their tailpipe emissions and fuel consumption when assessing the impact they have on the environment. Manufacturers can expect to face more questions about how they make and transport their cars, and how easy they are to dispose of at the end of their lives - here the sticky question of what to do with the batteries from a hybrid car at the end of its life is especially relevant.

Two new initiatives from Toyota will have some impact on the problem. First, the company has started using the 60,000-tonne Auriga Leader to transport its cars to North America. The ship, owned by the Japanese NYK Line carries a large array of solar panels capable of generating 40 kilowatts of power, reducing the demands placed on its diesel engines, and allowing fuel consumption and emissions to be cut as well. NYK aims to reduce fuel consumption on its car carrier fleet by 50% by 2010.

Second, Toyota has announced that it will begin production of a full hybrid vehicle in Europe for the first time in 2010. The hybrid version of the Auris will be manufactured at the company’s Burnaston plant in Derbyshire; engines will come from another Toyota facility in the UK at Deeside in North Wales. The British government, which has been working hard to attract production of electric cars and hybrids to the UK, welcomed Toyota’s decision. The big prize - getting production of General Motors’ Volt electric car into Vauxhall’s Ellesmere Port factory - remains elusive while uncertainty surrounds the rescue of GM’s troubled European operations.

Click here for a video of the Auriga Leader