February 25, 2009 Toyota is taking the concept of green cars literally with the development of a hybrid concept car made from seaweed which will to be shown at the Melbourne International Motor Show in Australia this week. The 1/X (pronounced one-Xth) gets its name because it envisages a hybrid-powered car of the future with a fraction of the environmental footprint of today's cleanest cars.

The vehicle was the dream of Toyota Engineer Tetsuya Kaida who wants to, “create such a vehicle from seaweed because Japan is surrounded by the sea.” The car uses high-tech materials available today, but is built with the future in mind and uses light-weight carbon-fiber reinforced plastic throughout the body frame for collision safety - but that material is made from oil. Although the car is only a concept, the technologies it explores could be used for all Toyota vehicles - from a Yaris to a LandCruiser.

Interior space is on par with today's Prius, but at around 420kg the concept car weighs just one-third of other vehicles in its class. Designers are aiming at twice the fuel economy by combining a plug-in hybrid powertrain with flexible fuel technology using a mixture of ethanol and petrol. The 500cc engine is one-third the size of today's Prius and allows charging from external sources, such as a powerpoint at home or at work. Its electric-only cruising distance would be longer than today's battery technology would allow with the highly efficient power unit driving the rear wheels mounted under the rear seat.

Don’t expect the seaweed car to appear in showrooms for a while though as it is at least a decade until Toyota believes cars like the 1/X will be made of plant based plastic - or eco plastics. Kaida even throws up the prospect of other eco friendly materials saying, “In the future, I'm sure we will have access to new and better materials, such as those made from plants - something natural, maybe something like paper.” If he can do it with origami then I’d be really impressed.

The Toyota 1/X will appear at the Melbourne International Motor Show, which starts on February 27.

Darren Quick