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In the era of the hybrid car and global warming—not to mention rising gas prices—Japanese carmakers don’t need to be asked twice to talk up their tree-hugging credentials. Just look at Toyota ad campaigns. But credit where credit’s due when it comes to improving paint technologies. Yesterday, Toyota announced yesterday that it had completed the introduction of water-based paint for the top coat painting process at all nine of its vehicle body paint lines in Japan. That’s led to a 45% reduction in emissions of volatile organic compounds—the nasty stuff produced during painting—from 2000 levels. Toyota is now expected to begin using water-based paints for intermediate coatings as well just finishing. It’s not the only one. Mazda, which has already cut its VOCs by a similar amount, is expected to follow suit with water-based paints in Japan during 2007 and Subaru producer Fuji Heavy Industries by 2010. Nissan, which has developed a scratch resistant paint where scratches appear to disappear within a week, began using a more environmentally friendly paint at its Fukuoka plant in February.
Still, don’t expect the greener coatings to gloss over the rows over just how green how greenToyota et al really are. In October, Bluewater Network, an environmental group, launched an ad depicting Toyota CEO Katsuaki Watanabe as a wolf in a sheep costume. Among other things, the group complain that Toyota’s fuel economy per vehicle has worsened as the company has increased the proportion of larger vehicles it sells in the U.S.—not the image it likes to give off. The 3.5 liter Lexus GS450h hybrid, launched in Japan on March 16, only adds to the debate. Racing from 0-60mph in little over 5 seconds, some critics ask whether high speed hybrids like the GS450h are more about boosting performance than saving the environment. At least they can’t quibble with the paint job.