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Plug-in hybrids which can run on electric power only as well as using petrol engine power for longer journeys offer the best solution for 21st Century motoring, Graham Smith, managing director of Toyota Motor Europe told delegates at the International Automotive Conference in Sunderland.

“But it will take time for consumers to adapt to the idea of driving a car that you can plug into a socket,” he warned the 140 delegates at the Stadium of Light.

Hybrids will bridge the gap between now and the arrival of hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles, said Mr Smith.

Toyota will offer a hybrid version of every model in its range by the early 2020s, he said. The UK-built Auris will be available with petrol, diesel and hybrid power from the middle of this year “and is a strong indication of where we are going,” he said.

Toyota believes that electric-only vehicles are only suitable for short journeys in city and suburban areas. “They will have a role to play but it is not a major one,” he said.

Toyota developed its first EV, based on the RAV4, in 1996 and continues to work on EVs he said.

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By GlobalData

One advantage of the research into alternative-powered vehicles is that the batteries, electric motors and software are common to hybrids, EVs and fuel cells, said Mr Smith.

“Whichever route manufacturers take we have to be successful as an industry if we are to maintain personal transport.”

Toyota will launch a 36-month trial of plug-in hybrids this summer in London using 20 vehicles. The trial has already started in France, he said.

The advantage of plug-in hybrids is that for journeys under 10km they run of electric power only and are zero emission. For journeys under 25km – which represent 80 per cent of trips –the vehicle will run in hybrid mode using the petrol engine, with CO2 emissions 60 per cent less than the Prius mild hybrid, he said.