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Toyota seeks bids to build A-BAT

Rafay Ansar

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Toyota Division is one step closer to producing the audaciously styled A-BAT concept pickup truck.

Suppliers have been asked to bid on making parts for the compact truck, Toyota executives confirm. But that doesn't necessarily mean the A-BAT has been green-lighted.

"This is a common next step in evaluating cost parameters on promising concepts, but it does not imply a commitment to it yet," said a senior Toyota executive.

Similarly, Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said no decision to move ahead has been made.

Neither executive said when a decision might be made. But the fact that Toyota has requested proposals shows it would like to build the vehicle. Toyota says market research for the A-BAT, which debuted at the Detroit auto show in January, has been highly positive.

Supplier queries were sent for both a four-cylinder and hybrid-powered version of the truck, said Mike Levine, founder of PickupTrucks.com.

Although the platform architecture is still unknown, the A-BAT would be car-based, rather than use a body-on-frame structure.

An industry source predicts that the truck would borrow components and architecture from both the Camry Hybrid and the redesigned 2010 Prius.

Still, cost issues mean a production version is no done deal. The A-BAT is smaller than the Tacoma truck, but the car architecture would be more expensive than the Tacoma's body-on-frame platform.

"For every one that goes forward, there are others that never go anywhere," said Toyota spokesman Mike Michels. "Our concepts are not usually a flight of fancy because they are a big investment. They are based on some reality and designed to be somewhat engineerable."

If the supplier bids show the cost structure is too high to build a profitable vehicle, Toyota will kill it.

That happened with the Lexus HPX from the 2003 New York auto show--a seven-seat crossover based on the Lexus GS platform. Besides being too expensive, trying to cram a third row of seats into a rear-drive platform was an ergonomic nightmare.

Similarly, Michels said, the much-lauded Toyota FT-HS hybrid sports car from the 2007 Detroit auto show was too expensive to build for the market segment that was targeted.

Still, Toyota might be fine breaking even with the A-BAT if it allows the company to bolster its truck CAFE ratings and avoid paying penalties.
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