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10 Mar 04. The FT reported that Toyota has licensed petrol-electric technology to Ford, its US rival, consolidating the Japanese carmaker’s grip on the hybrid engines likely to power the next generation of vehicles. Ford said that it had licensed about 20 of Toyota’s 350 patents on hybrids, which make use of batteries to increase the efficiency of ordinary engines.

The move means that three of the world’s top five car manufacturers will be using Toyota hybrid technology. Japan’s Nissan – which is controlled by Renault of France – plans to launch its first hybrid car, an Altima saloon, in California in 2006.

“Toyota’s got an absolutely unbeatable lead,” said John Wormald, partner at Autopolis, a consultancy. “I would view this as a considerable coup for Toyota.”

Licensing technology helps Toyota, which last year overtook Ford to become the second biggest carmaker, spread its development costs across more vehicles. Hybrid sales have so far run at only a few thousand vehicles a year, even though the second generation Prius that Toyota launched last autumn has proved to be more successful than had been expected.

Ford is due to launch its first hybrid, a version of its Escape small off-roader, this autumn. The only other manufacturer selling hybrids is Japan’s Honda, which uses its own technology. Ford’s licence agreement covers the complex transaxle, which balances the power from the battery and engine, while Nissan’s contract allows it to use the entire system. However, Ford and Nissan are developing their own technology and hope to use it in the next generation of hybrids.

Toyota has used the Prius to promote the image of an environmentally-friendly vehicle. But it plans to sell large numbers of hybrid versions of its new upmarket Lexus off-roader, with up to half those sold in Europe expected to use the more efficient system.

Comment: This development means that Ford could consider using hybrid drive technology in its range of lightweight military vehicles including Land Rovers, which will form a strong technological challenge for requirements such as OUVs in the Uk and the expected HUMMER replacement in the U.S. where a number of Hybrid units are running using technology developed by amongst others DRS’s PEI subsidiary.

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