Toyota to kickstart hybrid production in UK

TOKYO: Toyota, the world's biggest automaker, said Friday it will start making hybrid cars in Europe next year as part of a growth strategy that hinges on its strength in green technology.

Toyota Motor Corp. said in a statement it will produce from mid-2010 a gas-electric hybrid version of its Auris hatchback at its Burnaston Plant in central England. It didn't give any production figures.

The world's top automaker already makes hybrids in North America, Japan and China. It has been eager to expand its business in Europe, where it's still a tiny player.

Toyota said the decision to start making the hybrid Auris underlines its determination to "distinguish itself in that market through the strengths of its hybrid technology" as it fights the global auto slump.

Toyota has sold 37,000 Auris vehicles with regular gasoline engines in Europe since the model's introduction in 2007. The non-hybrid Auris is now produced in England and in Turkey, according to Toyota.

Strong hybrid sales have furnished the one bright spot in Toyota's gloomy performance. The maker of the Prius hybrid and Lexus luxury car sank to its worst ever loss in the fiscal year ended March.

Government incentives to encourage the purchase of ecological vehicles have helped boost hybrid sales, including those in Japan.

Interest in hybrids, electric vehicles and other green auto technology is growing because of worries about global warming and the environment.

The remodeled Prius has been selling briskly in Japan since they went on sale in May, and has been the top selling car in Japan for two straight months.