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Toyota executive calls out Musk as battle for green car future heats up

Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, speaks during the Reuters Global Auto Summit in Los Angeles
Bob Carter, group vice president and general manager for Toyota Motor Sales USA, speaks during the Reuters Global Auto Summit in Los Angeles

DETROIT (Reuters) - In an escalation of the auto industry's war of words over future green technologies, a senior Toyota Motor Corp executive singled out Elon Musk and other rival executives on Tuesday and made a bold prediction for its hydrogen car.

Bob Carter, Toyota's senior vice president for automative operations, said in a speech that he believed a hydrogen fuel cell car it plans to launch next year could eventually be as successful as its pioneering Prius gasoline-electric hybrid.

Carter said "naysayers" who have spoken out against the technology would be proven wrong and referred to Elon Musk, founder of electric car maker Tesla Motors Inc, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Nissan Motor Co, and former Volkswagen executive Jonathan Browning by name.

"Personally I don't really care what Elon and Carlos and Jonathan have to say about fuel cells. It's very reminiscent of 1998, 1999 when we first introduced the Prius," Carter said at a conference held in conjunction with the Detroit auto show.

The comments underscore just how big the stakes are in the race to take the lead in the next generation green car.

While Toyota is investing heavily in fuel cells, others such as Nissan, Volkswagen and Tesla are betting on electric vehicles as the next big thing while publically questioning whether hydrogen could ever develop into a practical automotive fuel.

At the Los Angeles auto show in November, Browning, who was then chief of Volkswagen's U.S. operations, ruffled feathers by saying electric was a more viable technology because it was a lot easier for consumers to find electric sockets than hydrogen stations.

Toyota's Carter addressed the infrastructure issue on Tuesday, arguing that the number of hydrogen fuelling stations would grow in time, helped by private-public partnerships such as the one established in the state of California.

By placing stations in better locations, Carter estimated that if all cars in California were running on hydrogen that the state's fuelling needs could be met with 15 percent of the nearly 10,000 gasoline stations currently in operation.

Fuel cell cars convert hydrogen to electricity, emit only water vapor and have a similar range to conventional petrol-driven cars.

Toyota believes that makes them the best next-generation technology to succeed the hybrid vehicle, of which it has cumulatively sold nearly 6 million since the first Prius rolled off the production line.

"Ten years from now, I have a hunch our fuel cell vehicle will be viewed in similar terms. We truly believe it has the same potential as the first Prius," Carter said.

(Reporting by Nathan Layne; Editing by Jeremy Laurence)

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