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Paddling Hard to Catch Up in Toyota's Hybrid Technology Wake

Playing catch-up a decade late, the world's auto giants now find that they have to lease or buy technology from Toyota.

Published: 20-Oct-2005

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TOKYO, Oct. 19 - At the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota unveiled a futuristic car powered by a gasoline-electric engine that sounded part Jetsons, part Star Trek. With this so-called hybrid engine under the hood, the concept car was called the Prius.

Fast forward to Wednesday's opening of the 2005 Motor Show. America's Big Three auto makers - Ford Motor, General Motors and the Chrysler division of DaimlerChrysler - were deploying slinky models to drape themselves over concept cars running in some kind of alternative fashion: hydrogen fuel cells or gasoline-electric engines.

Playing catch-up a decade late, the world's auto giants now find that they have to lease or buy technology from Toyota. Often they must buy parts from Japanese companies where Toyota has strong influence, either as a buyer or as an investor. Last month, Ford officials complained that the Aisin AW Company, a Japanese auto parts supplier, was placing a low priority on transmissions ordered by Ford.

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The bottom line: A comfortable but not flashy SUV with the benefit of great gas mileage thanks to Toyota's hybrid power plant.

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