Toyota: letting India down

On May 18, 1999, the United Nations Environment Programme announced that it had elected Toyota Motor Corporation of Japan to the prestigious ranks of its Global 500 Roll of Honour for the company's "outstanding contributions to the protection of the environment'. It is well known that Toyota has been at the forefront of research and development of clean alternative vehicle technologies like fuel cells, hybrid vehicles and electric vehicles.

But when it came to India, Toyota announced that it was introducing a diesel-powered multi-utility vehicle. "While developing the diesel engine for India, we considered the constraints posed by the quality of diesel available and the limitations of Indian suppliers on advanced technology front. This forced us to develop the diesel engine to match the conditions in India still emitting low emissions,' wrote K K Swamy, deputy managing director of Toyota Kirloskar Motor Ltd, and H Tsutsumi of the company's engineering division, in response to the questionnaire sent by researchers of the Centre for Science and Environment's Right To Clean Air Campaign.

Kuldip Sahdev, who was India's ambassador to Japan more than two years ago, is now a consultant to Toyota. Commenting on the responsibility of carmakers towards public health in an interview with Down To Earth, he said: "They do have responsibility, but the government must create a level-playing field... Suppose any one manufacturer wants to introduce technology which will cost another Rs 20,000-30,000 per car. How will you ensure that they get a fair share of the market? They also have a responsibility towards the shareholder to sell