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Toyota Chairman Says Open to Hybrid Tie-Up With GM

Toyota Chairman Says Open to Hybrid Tie-Up With GM
TOKYO - Toyota Motor Corp. is open to supplying its hybrid technology to General Motors Corp. to help its ailing US rival regain competitiveness, the Japanese auto maker's chairman said on Monday.

Hiroshi Okuda made the comments two weeks after expressing concern about the health of the US industry, saying voluntary price hikes and technical tie-ups could be ways to help peers like GM and Ford Motor Co. catch their breath as they lose market share to foreign brands.

GM currently has an agreement with DaimlerChrysler AG to jointly develop a "two-mode" hybrid system by 2007 for use in bigger vehicles like pickup trucks.

"I don't know how well (GM and DaimlerChrysler's hybrid alliance) is working out, but if there's a chance for Toyota to supply technology to GM it's something we'd be interested in," Okuda told a news conference in his capacity as chairman of Japan's biggest business lobby, the Japan Business Federation.

It is not clear whether selling hybrid cars would help GM's bottom line since the system, which twins an electric motor and a gasoline engine to increase fuel efficiency, is expensive to develop and produce.

But supplying the technology to more auto makers would definitely benefit Toyota by raising output volumes and thus reducing per-unit production costs.

Toyota has so far signed up Nissan Motor Co. to buy its hybrid system and has an agreement to licence part of the technology to Ford.

Okuda's comments also follow a report in the Asian Wall Street Journal on Monday that GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner would meet top Toyota officials in mid-May to discuss a possible technology-sharing deal on hybrid vehicles when he visits Japan.

Okuda confirmed the meeting would take place but stressed it had been planned since last year to coincide with Wagoner's visit to the World Expo site near Toyota's headquarters in Aichi prefecture.

Executives of the two companies, which jointly own a car assembly plant in California, occasionally meet at auto shows and other venues.

"It's not that either Toyota or GM has a specific topic that will be brought to the meeting," he said, adding that Toyota did not have discussions over hybrid technology in mind.

GM and Toyota, the world's two biggest auto makers, have long been cooperating in various fields and had renewed a pact to collaborate on research and development of alternative-fuel vehicles until 2006 after a five-year deal expired last year.

A Toyota spokesman said the renewed agreement centred on zero-emission hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, and that there were no new agreements beyond that, such as those referred to in the Journal.

The paper said an agreement between GM and Toyota could see the Japanese auto maker gain access to GM and DaimlerChrysler's two-mode hybrid technology, while GM could introduce smaller hybrid cars sooner than expected.

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