JANUARY 20, 2008

Toyota bound for Le Mans?

There are reports in the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun that Toyota is going to take a hybrid racing car to Le Mans. The newspaper quoted an unnamed Toyota official as saying that the company's plan is to use the classic French event to spread the word about its hybrid products and will also use the programme to boost its image as an environmentally-friendly company.

"Audi proved the superiority of the next generation diesel engine at Le Mans," the Toyota official was quoted as saying, "Toyota wants to do the same with the hybrid."

There have been rumours of such a move for some time with the suggestion being that Toyota will ease its way out of F1 by giving the Le Mans hybrid programme a high profile and leaving Williams as its representative in Grand Prix racing. Given the Toyota F1 team's lack of success in recent years and the promising showing by Williams in 2007, this is a logical step as the company can justify the switch away from F1 because of the need to concentrate on environmental issues, while also benefiting from any success that Williams achieves.

Part of the theory behind the project is that the competition will help Toyota to improve the efficiency of its hybrid vehicles by using the developments from the racing programme in its production cars. There is much potential for increased sales of hybrid machinery around the world in the light of the increasing pressure to think about the environment and Toyota's early involvement in the development means that it has patented many of the ideas that others now wish to use. This means that the company also stands to make considerable money by licensing its technology to other car companies.