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Ford Exec: Japanese Hogging Hybrid Parts

Guess Toyota's 5 Year Hybrid Headstart Not Helpful

DETROIT (Reuters) - Ford Motor Co. could be offering more hybrid vehicles if it weren't for the shortage of specialized components, partly due to the "predatory" approach taken by some Japanese automakers, Ford Chief Operating Officer Jim Padilla said Tuesday.

"It is a supply issue, and it's supply of several technologies," Padilla said at the Reuters Summit in Detroit. "The Japanese have shown a little bit of a predatory approach."

Company Chief Executive Bill Ford Jr. has said he wants more hybrids in the fleet of the world's third-biggest automaker, after trailing Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co. with the fuel-efficient technology.

The Japanese automakers have been successful in cultivating an image as the leaders in environmental technology by offering a range of hybrid vehicles. Toyota plans to sell up to 250,000 units worldwide this year, mainly in North America.

Ford began offering its first hybrids with the Escape sport utility vehicle last autumn, lagging firstcomer Honda by five years. It has said it plans to build 20,000 units this year, with the addition of the Mercury Mariner SUV.

The No. 2 U.S. automaker gets battery packs for the hybrid system, which twins a gasoline engine to an electric motor and batteries to boost fuel economy, mainly from Japan's Sanyo Electric Co., and other parts from various suppliers, such as Toyota affiliate Aisin Seiki Co.

Toyota, which licenses part of its hybrid technology to Ford, has been a volume leader for the fuel-sipping vehicles, saying last week it would boost annual output of motors for hybrids to meet strong demand, mainly in North America.

"We are working with multiple suppliers and alternatives," Padilla said. "We recognize that the ramp-up phase is very critical for suppliers and for ourselves to get economies of scale."

Padilla didn't say how many more hybrids Ford would like to produce. But he noted that production and development costs needed to come down substantially for them to be viable, both for the manufacturer and consumers.

"You have to realize that hybrids on the market now go for a $3,000 to $3,500 premium, and that only covers a fraction of the costs," he said.

Asked if Ford was making any money on hybrid sales, he said: "I don't know if anyone is making money on them, and if they do, I think that would be a very interesting economic study."

Toyota has said for some time that its hybrids are profitable, but declines to disclose by how much.

As another alternative to large, gas-guzzling SUVs, Padilla said Ford also had in the pipeline several so-called "crossover" vehicles, which generally get better mileage than truck-based SUVs. Ford is second in the U.S. market for crossovers after Honda.