Toyota is the king of the hybrid hill, but they have been accused of dragging their heels on pure plug-ins. Then Toyota plunked $50m on Tesla (and convinced them to move into the NUMMI plant.) This got people thinking. Some thought it was just an elegant way to unload the NUMMI plant. Some saw it as the beginning of Toyota’s electric future. Half a year later, Toyota puts their concrete plans on the table.
- Hybrids and more hybrids: Toyota’s main focus remains on hybrids. By the end of 2012, they will introduce 11 new hybrids, some all-new, some redesigned. An unnamed compact is promised to have a fuel efficiency better than 40 km/liter under the Japanese test cycle. A strictly mathematical conversion yields a whopping 94 mpg – even under EPA conditions, that car will cause worries in Saudi Arabia.
- Plug-in hybrids: By early 2012, Toyota will sell a Prius-based plug-in hybrid, mainly in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. For those who lived under a rock: A plug-in hybrid will run for a (short) while on pure battery, once depleted, a gasoline engine provides the motion. It’s not just for green creds. Toyota wants to sell more than 50,000 units annually, and the price for Japan is expected to be in the 3-million-yen range. That’s about $36,000 – not a bargain.
- Pure plug-ins: Also as intimated before, Toyota will release an iQ-based pure electric vehicle in the U.S., Japan and Europe. The launch is planned for 2012, with road trials in Japan, U.S., and Europe starting in 2011. A launch in China is in the cards, you will see the battery-powered iQ on China’s roads in 2011 on a trial basis.
- What about Tesla: At the LA Motorshow, visitors can touch and sit in a “RAV4 EV” which was developed jointly with Tesla Motors. When this plug-in will go to market is anybody’s guess, a good guess is also 2012, when Toyota’s floodgates open. But wait, there’s more:
- Fuel Cell cars: Did they say fuel cell cars? They sure did. Toyota is intent on bringing a sedan-type fuel-cell hybrid vehicle (FCHV), to market, also in Japan, the U.S. and Europe. The fuel cell will be powered with hydrogen, and a launch is envisioned by 2015. By that time, “hydrogen supply infrastructure is expected to develop” in these markets, at least according to Toyota’s plans. If Toyota would sell it now (which they don’t) the car would cost around 10 million yen. That’s $120,000 in today’s dollars. Officially, Toyota “aims to further reduce costs to bring the vehicle to market at a more-affordable price.” The word from Aichi is that they will work hard to bring the price down to more palatable levels, and that they are serious: “Toyota is very committed to fuel cells,” says Toyota spokesman Paul Nolasco.
- Batteries: Price and performance of batteries remain the big roadblock that is in the way of total electrification. A battery vehicle with the same range and price as an ICE powered one would be an easy sell. So Toyota is researching batteries with performance greatly better than lithium-ion. Two technologies are in their labs: Solid-state batteries and metal-air batteries. No further info. Wait and see.
So that’s Toyota’s green roadmap. They won’t send us on that road trip without cautionary words.
Toyota “believes that eco-cars can have a positive impact on the environment only if they are widely used.” Subliminal message: Don’t bet on it.
Just in case EVs will not take over the world, Toyota “will continue to improve the fuel efficiency of its conventional combustion-engine cars, which account for the majority of its sales.”
Not surprisingly, “hybrid technologies are positioned as key technologies to achieve both high fuel efficiency and driving performance.”
If I would be looking at a hybrid that gets 94 mpg, I’d come to similar conclusions.
Another item between the lines: Toyota has big hybrid plans for Europe, a market that used to be hybrid-adverse. Toyota spokesman Etienne Plas, reached at Toyota’s European HQ in Brussels, thinks that “hybrids are no longer a niche product in Europe. We have sold 300,000 hybrids in Europe since we introduced them. We sold 43,000 units of the Prius last year, and we will easily beat that number. Our new Auris hybrid, targeted at 14,000 units for this year, is sold out. We will sell 30,000 next year. The European market is definitely opening up for hybrids.”
At $7.2 for the gallon of regular unleaded at the average German gas station, and diesel not a whole lot cheaper ($6.36 / gal), it’s about time. If you think high gas prices will make EVs take off: Not happening in Europe.