GM-led Coalition Plan To Challenge Toyota's Hybrid Hegemony
IF the crossword puzzle clue is "hybrid car," the answer is probably "Prius." Since Toyota brought that model to the United States six years ago, the company has basked in a green public-relations glow — even though Honda was first with a modern gas-electric car (the Insight) and Ford sold the first hybrid S.U.V. (the Escape).
But with a mix of creative engineering, clever promotion and fortunate timing, Toyota has set the de facto standard for the entire class of eco-friendly vehicles. It has licensed its software to Ford and is selling hybrid components to Nissan. Toyota has half a dozen hybrid models in showrooms or on the way — twice as many as any other automaker — ranging from the miserly Prius to the $100,000-plus Lexus LS 600hL.
Yet the domination of Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive is coming under assault from some of the auto industry's top engineers. For more than a year, in nondescript buildings in Troy, Mich., north of Detroit, a German-American consortium of BMW, DaimlerChrysler and General Motors has been working quietly to develop a distinctly different type of hybrid powertrain.
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