Tokyo: Toyota Motor Corp said on Thursday it is setting up a new in-house unit to develop electric vehicles as the Japanese automaker speeds up efforts to produce more of the lower-emission cars.

Toyota said the unit would initially consist of four people — one each from the automaker, machine manufacturer Toyota Industries Corporation, and parts suppliers Aisin Seiki Co and Denso Corp.

The team will be responsible for planning a strategy for developing and marketing electric cars to keep pace with tightening global emissions regulations, a Toyota spokesman said, and will expand by drawing upon engineers, designers and other personnel from various sections of the company as needed.

"Regulations on lower emissions vehicles are changing very quickly, so we also have to respond quickly," spokesman Itsuki Kurosu said.

"With its small size, the new venture will be able to be more nimble in its planning and decision making, to speed up the process to develop electric cars."

The automaker, which has invested heavily in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as the most promising "green" alternative to conventional cars, this month said it would like to have the option of developing full-sized electric vehicles.

It has been developing ultra-compact electric vehicles for years, but by adding longer-range models to its product range, Toyota would be changing its tune from promoting plug-in petrol-electric hybrid cars and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs) as the most promising alternative to conventional cars.

Even as rivals such as Nissan Motor Co, Volkswagen AG and Tesla Motors have touted pure electric cars as the most viable zero-emission vehicles for the future, Toyota had said it would reserve EVs for short-distance commuting given the high price of rechargeable batteries and lengthy charging times.

Toyota has pledged to make all of its vehicles essentially emissions-free by 2050.