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Toyota To Produce Hybrid Camry

Toyota Motor Corp. plans to begin production of environmentally friendly hybrid vehicles based on its Camry midsize passenger car in Kentucky in 2006, company officials in Japan said Thursday, according to a Kyodo News agency report.

Toyota said earlier this year that it will build hybrid vehicles, which run on electricity and gasoline, in the United States, though did not announce specific plans. The Camry is built at the company's 7.5 million square foot (675,000 square meters) plant in Georgetown, the company's largest U.S. facility.

A U.S. Toyota official said Thursday he could not confirm the Kyodo report.

"To the very best of my knowledge, no decision has been reached on this," said Dan Seeger, a spokesman for Toyota's North American headquarters in Erlanger, in the northern Kentucky suburbs of Cincinnati.

California and Canada are also making a big push for the hybrid manufacturing plant, which Toyota officials said they would announce by midyear at one of the company's existing facilities.

Gene Strong, the state's economic development secretary, said he believes the decision will be made at a Toyota board meeting later this month.

"Until that happens, I don't think anybody's got a comfort level," Strong said.

Strong said the timing of next week's trip to Japan and China by Gov. Ernie Fletcher could be helpful as Kentucky makes its final pitch. Production of the hybrid vehicle, which some in the industry predict will eventually replace gasoline-powered vehicles, offers the plant a promising future.

It was Toyota's decision to build its Georgetown plant a generation ago that made Kentucky a boom state in the automobile assembly and supply business. Toyota President Fujio Cho ran the Georgetown plant for seven years after it opened in 1987.

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