Toyota hopes to start commercial production of fuel cell vehicles by 2015, new president Akio Toyoda told an auto industry conference in Traverse City.

Toyota was ”making great progress on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hopes to make this technology available and affordable for customers within the next half dozen years,” Toyoda told delegates in the Michigan lakeside resort.

He confirmed the company would launch plug-in petrol-electric hybrid [Prius] vehicles later this year and an electric vehicle [based on the iQ city car] in 2012.

Toyota officials earlier this year told just-auto the PHEV Prius and iQ-based EV would have lithium ion batteries rather than the nickel metal hydride (Ni-mH) cells used for the current Prius hybrid.

In wide-ranging remarks, Toyoda also said: ”I believe the U.S. market will not only recover, but come back stronger than ever.”

”In fact, with 250m vehicles on the road and the best population growth in the developed world, the United States will serve as a major engine of growth for automakers for many years to come.”

Toyoda did not report making any progress on the future of the NUMMI joint venture in California, from which GM is pulling out, saying only: ”We are still studying the situation and hope to make a decision soon.”