• Kyodo

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Toyota Motor Corp. aims to strengthen sales of “welfare vehicles” specially equipped for the disabled, the elderly and nursing care providers by developing new functions and reducing prices, the firm said Thursday.

Alert to Japan’s graying society, Toyota aims to raise its annual sales of welfare vehicle to 60,000 units by 2005, six times its present level, and take a 60 percent share of the market, the officials said.

Toyota’s welfare vehicle sales increased by 36 percent in 1999 from the previous year to about 9,500 units, with its market share at 50 percent, followed by Nissan Motor Co. with 20 percent.

Toyota plans to equip most of the models it currently sells with special functions for the disabled and elderly, as well as for nursing care providers. They will be displayed at special plazas to be built in Tokyo, Kobe and Fukuoka, the officials said.

When Toyota markets new models, it will introduce welfare versions in the same sales-promotion pamphlets in order to make them known not only to customers but also to company employees and dealers, the officials said.

Dealers have recently asked Toyota why its outlets have not been handling welfare vehicles even though they are selling well, according to Takashi Saito, a product planning official.

Welfare cars are priced higher than conventional models because of necessary renovations and the use of special parts, such as special motors for lifting wheelchairs. However, Toyota has been striving to cut costs and has brought prices down by about 30 percent.

Toyota equips its high-class Crown models with electric-powered revolving passenger’s seats. Its Progres model has passenger’s seats that also move out of the car.

Welfare vehicles are mainly categorized into two types: those that can be driven by the handicapped, aided by hand-operated accelerators and brakes, and those that accommodate the disabled and elderly.