Carmaker exchanges staid for sporty

Still smarting from the negative publicity surrounding the global recall of thousands of its Prius, Lexus and Land Cruiser models earlier this year, Toyota Motor Corp. is hoping a switch to more sporty vehicles will help its sales recover.

The world's largest automaker has announced that it will launch a new range of budget sports vehicles and redesign some of its existing vehicles to add sporty versions.

The most eye-catching of the new Toyota vehicles will be the GRMN sports hybrid car, which was unveiled to the media by Toyota Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada at the Fuji International Speedway circuit in early September.

Speaking after the unveiling, Uchiyamada told reporters, "We want to offer cars that are fun to drive and make people think 'Toyota is interesting'."

That rather staid image has held Toyota back as its rivals have carved out new markets.

Honda Motor Co., for example, announced the addition of the futuristic CR-Z model to its lineup of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles in March, aiming to compete with Nissan Motor Co.'s Fairlady, the Mazda RX-8 or imports such as the BMW Z4 roadster.

Sales of environment-friendly cars have increased in recent years in Japan, partly thanks to a government subsidy program (which recently ended) designed to encourage drivers to trade in their inefficient vehicles for greener versions, but with a shrinking population and young people showing less interest in owning a car, the future for the domestic industry still looks trying.

Toyota hopes the GRMN will stimulate new interest in high-performance cars. In conjunction with the release of the new roadster - the first fruits of its sports vehicle management division, which was set up in January of this year - the company has started promoting "G Sports" versions of its Voxy and Noah people-movers.

The upgraded variants are not a great deal more expensive than the basic vehicles - a mere Y300,000 (€2,787) to Y600,000 (€5,574) more - while Toyota is also planning to launch a sports edition of its hugely popular Prius hybrid next year.

The GRMN is also expected to hit Japan's roads in 2011.

JR

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