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Toyota Says its Hybrid Prius Can Be Recycled

Japan's Toyota Motor Corp. says its new Prius car will be recycled at the end of its useful life, underlining the environmental credentials of the electric/gasoline hybrid vehicle soon to hit Europe's roads.

Powered by an electric motor and a gasoline engine, the Prius will be launched in Europe from October with a target of 5,000 cars during the first year, said Rob Faulkner, manager for product communications at Toyota Motor Manufacturers Europe.

The electric motors are powered by nickel-metal hydride batteries made by audio, television and video manufacturer Panasonic and are guaranteed for the vehicle's life.

The 38-celled batteries will be recycled at the end of the car's life by one of three European companies: France's Societe Nouvelle d'Affinage des Metaux, Germany's Accurec or Switzerland's Batrec, Faulkner told Reuters from the company's European headquarters in Brussels.

"We will send them the battery packs and they will recycle them. It will depend market by market how we get them (the batteries) back (from the car owners)," Faulkner said.
Under a new European Union law carmakers will have to recycle or reuse 80% of a car's weight from 2006, rising to 85% by 2015. Around 75% of all material is already recycled or reused.

From 2007 manufacturers will have to take back without any charge any scrap car, regardless of when it was built.

"In the UK they are guaranteeing ... a benchmark price and will take back the Prius at the end of its life," Faulkner told Reuters.

"In Japan 60% to 70% of the cars have been sold through fleets so eventually they will come back to Toyota."

"The other 30% to 40%, those people tend to be more environmentally aware and technically minded so by their nature will be more likely to return the car and be more concerned about the recycling," he said.

In Japan the company was also testing new technology for dismantling and shredding cars, but there were no such plans for Europe.

"There is no intention in the near future to open a shredding and recycling plant for the time being (in Europe)."

Recycling Toyota's cars in Europe was done on a country-by-country approach.

Some dealers had networks set up to collect and recycle items such as used oil and batteries, he said.

Smaller, Lighter Batteries

The batteries now used are 60% smaller and 30% lighter than the first battery used in the Prius when it was launched in Japan in December 1997.

"This battery will be what we will continue to look at for hybrid cars, given the advances over the last two and half years," he said.

So far the company has sold 43,000 Prius cars. Sales began in the United States in June with 3,400 pre-orders.

Toyota is also using the nickel-metal hydride batteries to power its electric commuter vehicle, a two-seater for urban driving.

Any future mass production plans for the will be made on the results of an experimental programme being carried out testing community car-sharing at Toyota City in Japan.

Faulkner said cars could be booked and reserved online, picked-up with a code and swipe card, unplugged and then replugged, say at a train station where the next driver would get on board.



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