Toyota Motor Corp. said Monday it will begin limited marketing of its fuel-cell hybrid car by the end of this year, a year earlier than originally planned, in order to raise social awareness of the clean-running vehicle.

Japan’s top car manufacturer said the vehicle, which will run on pure hydrogen, will be available by lease. The firm expects some 20 units to be leased to limited customers in Japan and the United States in the first year.

The expected customers include governments, research institutes and energy-related companies located in areas where Toyota has confirmed the availability of a hydrogen supply and after-sales service. Toyota aims to encourage the development of infrastructure as well as public understanding and support of hydrogen fuel through the business, the firm said.

Toyota is still deciding on the price and conditions of leasing the vehicle, which will come in the size of its Kluger V sports utility vehicle, also known as the Highlander in the U.S.

To answer social concerns toward global warming, automakers have been developing and testing fuel-cell vehicles that run on electricity created via a hydrogen-oxygen reaction and emit only water.

Toyota has been testing the prototypes of its fuel-cell hybrid vehicle on public roads both in Japan and the U.S. since last year.

The prototypes have so far covered a total of 110,000 km on both public roads and test courses, according to the carmaker.

Toyota said earlier that it will start limited marketing by the end of 2003 and also expects full-scale commercialization of its fuel-cell vehicles in 2010 at the earliest, on condition that the infrastructure and support for such vehicles are in place.

While the limited marketing will begin by the end of this year, the firm said it will continue the tests as well as the development of fuel-cell vehicles using different methods and fuels, including methanol or clean carbon hydro fuel.

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