Toyota starts production of Europe's first hybrid car
Japanese giant Toyota launched production of Europe's first full hybrid vehicle on Monday at its car factory in Burnaston, central England, handing a boost to Britain's battered auto industry.
The first European-made hybrid version of Toyota's Auris hatchback rolled off the production line under the eye of the British government's business minister Vince Cable.
"Toyota's decision to make Burnaston the only plant in the world to build the Hybrid Auris is a strong endorsement of the UK as a manufacturing base for the next generation of cars," said Cable, after touring the Burnaston plant.
"It is sending a signal to manufacturers that if you're not in the UK, then you're missing out on all the strengths and skills that the UK has to offer."
The new Auris Hybrid Synergy Drive car, which uses both a traditional petrol engine and an electric motor, will arrive at British car showrooms on July 1.
The model will be assembled at Burnaston, in Derbyshire, while the engines will be produced in Deeside, northern Wales. They are the first hybrid engines to be made outside of Japan.
Production of the Auris car will help safeguard around 400 British jobs at the two factories.
"The UK has proved to be a valuable business partner," said Toyota's Motor Europe president Didier Leroy on Monday.
"Building on almost 20 years of manufacturing experience, Toyota's team members continue to deliver the quality, efficiency and flexibility needed to meet the exacting standards of our customers in Europe.
"A new chapter is opening today as Britain, a traditional origin of industrial innovation, becomes home to the manufacture of the first full hybrid vehicle for Europe," Leroy added.
Katsunori Kojima, managing director of Toyota Manufacturing UK, said the group was "proud" to begin British production.
"It is a proud day for Toyota Manufacturing UK as we celebrate the official start of production of the Auris Hybrid Synergy Drive, yet another premium quality model to be built in Britain," Kojima added.
"To manufacture a world-class vehicle you need a world-class team and the commitment and dedication of our members has been crucial."
The group's reputation has however been tarnished by a series of recalls for accelerator and brake problems on a whole range of their cars.
The Japanese giant has recalled around 10 million vehicles worldwide since late last year, mostly for problems with sudden acceleration, which have been blamed for more than 80 deaths in the United States.
Toyota president Akio Toyoda last week apologised to shareholders for the mass recalls.
Dr Keith Pullen, joint head of the energy systems and engines group at London's City University, praised Toyota for making the new hybrid vehicle Britain.
"The decision to manufacture the Toyota Auris hybrid at Burnaston is welcome news for the UK and clear recognition that we are still at the forefront of innovative automotive technology," Pullen told AFP on Monday.
"Manufacturing vehicles such as this is the future for the industry, so this should be seen as a positive sign."
© 2010 AFP