Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. will unveil a unibody hybrid-electric compact pickup truck concept, the A-BAT, at the 2008 North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month.

As with rival Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s unibody Ridgeline pickup, on sale in the U.S. since 2006, Toyota has designed the A-BAT for urban driving as well as off-road trails.

“Driving from the suburbs to the city is a way of life for many people,” Kevin Hunter, president of Toyota’s Calty Design Research Inc., says in a statement. “We’ve taken Toyota’s truck heritage to a different level by envisioning a vehicle capable of maneuvering the suburbs as well as dirt roads.”

Studies by Calty and TMS’ Advanced Product Strategy Group revealed a need for such a vehicle in today’s marketplace, Toyota says, citing buyer demand for improved fuel economy, maneuverability, advanced functionality and styling in the segment.

The vehicle’s gas engine is a 4-cyl., but Toyota does not divulge the displacement.

The A-BAT features translucent solar panels atop the instrument panel, 19-in. wheels at the corners and a trapezoidal profile that mimics the Toyota Prius’ silhouette.

A cab-forward placement and fast angle A- and C-pillars further emphasize the shape, Calty’s Creative Designer Matt Sperling says, noting a military influence as well.

“The image of a NATO all-terrain military truck inspired us to keep the occupants as far forward as possible to maximize rear-bed capacity in this compact package,” Sperling says.

The bed is 4-ft. (1.2-m) long, but a pass-through, fold-down midgate allows for an additional 2 ft. (61 cm) of hauling space. Taller cargo can be accommodated in the cab thanks to the translucent sliding-roof panel.

Storage areas are numerous, including a slide-out drawer beneath the bed that can be accessed even when the tailgate is closed, Toyota says.

Carbon fiber and aluminum trim in the exposed interior spaces is decorative, meant to mimic the frames of expensive mountain bikes, but also adds “structural rigidity while reducing mass,” Daryl Harris, senior creative designer, says.

Technology features include a retractable, portable navigation unit with a 7-in. (18-cm) diagonal screen; Wi-Fi Internet access; multi-information display screens for both the driver and front passenger that provide settings information on the instrument panel; and a portable power pack stored in the alloy center console.

Energy captured from the solar panels on the IP assists in the charging of the navigation unit and power pack, among other items.

“The A-BAT is a fun-to-drive, practical package that reflects Toyota’s environmental sustainability message,” Hunter says.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com