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A serviceman fills a Toyota Mirai, a fuel-cell-powered car, with hydrogen at Japan’s gas distributor Iwatani’s hydrogen station in Tokyo in Oct., 2015.

YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

Governments that have introduced regulations requiring cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from automobiles should not rely on big increases in sales of battery electric vehicles to meet their targets, the president of Toyota Canada Inc. says.

Hybrid cars and trucks and vehicles powered by fuel cells can play a key role in helping the Quebec and Ontario governments meet their goal of reducing emissions and diminishing the impact of climate change, Larry Hutchinson says.

"To get it done, you need electric vehicles, but you need hybrids, you need fuel cells, you need this whole package of things," Mr. Hutchinson said in an interview at Toyota Canada's head office in Toronto.

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Mr. Hutchinson, who is the first chief executive of a Canadian unit of a major auto maker to speak publicly about the two governments' plans for action on climate change, noted that Toyota is a strong advocate of cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

"We say it publicly in our 2050 goal," he said. That plan calls for reducing carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles by 90 per cent from 2010 levels.

Toyota and other auto makers are spending billions of dollars developing technology to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet new regulatory requirements from the U.S. and Canadian governments that come into force in North America in the middle of the 2020s.

But Quebec and Ontario have approved legislation for their climate-change plans that relies heavily on increased sales of electric vehicles.

A Quebec government background document says 3.5 per cent of vehicles that large auto makers sell by 2018 must have zero emissions, with that target rising to 16 per cent by 2025. Ontario has set a 2020 target that 5 per cent of vehicles be electric or have hydrogen fuel cells.

But the 2018 and 2020 targets effectively require battery electric vehicles, which are powered entirely by electricity from a battery, because only a few vehicles with hydrogen fuel cells are on the road now and they are not expected to be widely available for another decade. In addition, virtually no hydrogen fuelling infrastructure is available for those fuel-cell-powered vehicles.

Ontario's consumer incentives of up to $14,000 apply to battery-powered or plug-in hybrid vehicles and not fuel-cell vehicles.

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Toyota believes fuel cells powered by hydrogen are the best way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, Mr. Hutchinson said. Three of the auto maker's fuel-cell-powered Mirai cars are being driven in Canada.

"Practically, if you're going to reduce emissions over all, you need to do it in the heart of the market," he said. "Today, the heart of the market is trucks – 60 per cent in Canada – and electric vehicles don't even play there."

Battery electric vehicles tend to be smaller, he said, which means they replace vehicles that are already fuel efficient.

He noted that Toyota manufactures hybrid vehicles in Canada and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV will soon do so also, but the Quebec and Ontario government incentives for clean vehicles do not apply to hybrids, which contribute to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, even though they are powered by a combination of gasoline and electric vehicle technology.

"There's going to be no benefit recognized for that, nor support for doing more of that as an example, to contribute to the economy and to contribute to greenhouse gas emission reduction," he said.

Toyota has sold about 14,000 hybrid vehicles in Canada this year, he said and the 30-per-cent fuel improvement they offer over gasoline-powered vehicles is the equivalent of putting about 4,000 zero-emission vehicles on the road without government incentives.

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The Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers Association, which represents the Canadian units of the Detroit Three auto makers, opposed the Quebec legislation, saying that putting in place a mandate that a certain percentage of a vehicle maker's fleet be zero-emission vehicles does not address the fact that demand is limited among Canadian consumers for such vehicles.

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