Toyota to ramp up on batteries, keep its options open, new CEO says

TOKYO, Feb 13 (Reuters) - Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) will ramp up its battery-electric offerings by focusing on its Lexus luxury brand, its incoming chief executive said on Monday, but the company will not deviate from a long held strategy of exploring other technologies.

The comments from Koji Sato, who takes over as the head of the world largest automaker from April 1, come as the Toyota has pushed back against critics that have said it has been too slow to embrace battery-powered electric vehicles.

Toyota, which popularised the hybrid technology of the Prius, has said that hybrids make better sense for many drivers, especially in markets where the infrastructure is not ready to support batteries. It has also championed hydrogen-powered cars as the future.

Sato said Toyota would accelerate its battery-electric offerings by focusing on the Lexus.

He was quick to point out, however, that this was not a big change in strategy and that Toyota would continue to focus on pursuing a number of different technologies in its drive towards carbon-neutral vehicles.

"This is not a fast pivot towards battery EVs," he said, adding that much of the problem stemmed from one of "communication" about Toyota's strategy.

"To the point that we have been slow at battery EV projects, I think around half of it is a communication issue," he said.

He said the company was sticking to a previous goal of selling 3.5 million battery-electric vehicles by 2030.

He said there would be further communication in April about the strategy once his team assumed their roles.

An engineer by training, Sato started his career at Toyota in 1992 before rising through the ranks to become chief engineer of Lexus International in 2016.

While he oversaw the creation of Lexus's first fully electric model, he has previously spoken of keeping open other options for powering vehicles.

Reporting by Kantaro Komiya and Satoshi Sugiyama; Editing by David Dolan, Tom Hogue and Christian Schmollinger

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