By on July 8, 2014

Mitsuhisa Kato + Toyota FCV

Toyota’s global R&D head Mitsuhisa Kato has little regard for the current crop of EVs, proclaiming the technology to make them viable in his eyes has yet to be invented.

Automotive News reports that although his team will still do R&D work on EVs, Kato believes there are few customers seeking a vehicle with short cruising ranges:

The cruising distance is so short for EVs, and the charging time is so long. At the current level of technology, somebody needs to invent a Nobel Prize-winning type battery.

He added that while EVs could be brought to parity with ICE vehicles, doing so using current technology would establish “a vicious circle” over costs and charging times.

Toyota itself is moving away from EVs into hydrogen with the upcoming 2015 FCV; the outgoing RAV4 EV and eQ will be gone from the global lineup by the time the FCV arrives in January of next year.

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38 Comments on “Kato: EVs Need Nobel Prize-Quality Battery Technology...”


  • avatar
    ydnas7

    Ha Ha Ha

    so he trying to sell a 12sec 0-60mph hydrogen vehicle for the same price a Tesla.

    (and he is probably making a massive loss on each one also)

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      CARB credits.

    • 0 avatar
      05lgt

      But… what if I want to drive longer than 12 sec? The Tesla S works for 99% of my driving days, and 55% of my driving miles. Last time I tried to rent for a road trip they didn’t have anything in the class I reserved and I ended up driving my own car. If I owned a current capability EV, I’d have been out of options. Batteries may never get where H is capable of going.

  • avatar
    jimbob457

    Wow! The world leader in hybrids is shunning EV’s. I think they see the new world in alternate fuel automotive engines may be a decade or more in the future. Hard to argue with ‘em.

    • 0 avatar

      If you had a country whose entire infrastructure was geared around electricity production via alternative energy and EV cars/trucks/trains etc… Perhaps you might get somewhere.

      EV do not fit the lifestyles or culture of America – who measures “efficiency” based on their wallets rather than on actual efficiency.

      I can buy a 2015 Hyundai Sonata (or Elantra) and have a more comfortable, easy to use, easy to maintain and easy to repair car than ANYTHING in the Hybrid or EV market. A Sonata’s battery replacement is only $100. Not so for a Prius.

      • 0 avatar
        thelaine

        Yep

      • 0 avatar
        jmo

        easy to maintain and easy to repair car

        So, just as an example, the single speed transmission in a Tesla is going to harder to repair and maintain than the 6-speed auto in a Sonata?

        • 0 avatar
          psarhjinian

          @jmo

          This is a good point: EVs are much simpler and less mechanically stressed than any ICE-powered car: you’re down to a motor, a very simple transmission (if you use a transmission at all) and a few motor/generators.

          Even hybrids, which are more complex, are turning out to be more reliable because the powertrain is better managed and less stressed, and what does wear out is generally no worse to replace than in an ICE vehicle.

          Heck, even wear items like brakes last longer.

        • 0 avatar
          Pch101

          EVs are fine. The batteries, not so much.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      “Wow! The world leader in hybrids is shunning EVs”

      But they’re not shunning hybrids, which makes a lot of sense: use the most efficient source, at it’s most efficient state, and reclaim wasted energy.

  • avatar

    I wonder how much energy is going to be WASTED trying to improve battery technology for a purpose it isn’t suited for?

    For a car, you need: a battery that can be charged quickly – while providing adequate driving range – and being safe enough to trust it won’t catch fire or explode during charging or driving – made out of materials that don’t require tremendous amounts of energy to mine – yet safe enough to release into the environment without causing major amounts of pollution.

    or… you could just drill into the ground and pump OIL…

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      batteries store power to be relased later. How are they not suited for an EV?

      Think battery technology won’t get there? go to Home Depot and pick up a new DeWalt 20 volt cordless drill. I would say that you should compare that drill to the classic 9V Makita cordless drill from 20 years ago, but that’s not fair anymore. That antique isn’t even in the same galaxy as a modern cordless drill.

      What you should compare the new cordless drill to is a new corded drill. Sure, a corded drill can take more of a beating and never need a recharge and will always have a place in an industrial setting, but the cordless drill is the standard that people buy. Just go get a lawn chair and sit by the tool aisle and then come back and tell us how many cordless drills HD sells in a weekend vs. corded drills. (you already know the answer)

      that’s just TWENTY YEARS of change in battery design. imagine will happen in the next twenty.

      • 0 avatar
        darkwing

        But how much farther has everything else come in 20 years? Batteries are simply a slow-improving technology. (The last benchmark I heard was that your typical battery-related metric doubles roughly every decade.)

      • 0 avatar
        340-4

        The problem is energy density.

        http://simanaitissays.com/2013/03/17/ev-good-news/

        Read this article and you’ll see why Toyota is moving in this direction.

        Batteries may never reach the energy density of fossil fuels. I doubt they will – ever. A close friend is a physicist in the know and he explained this to me when I had the same argument that you have above.

        It ain’t happening. Best to move on to something sustainable, or change our lifestyles. The US isn’t going to invest trillions in a new energy distribution infrastructure.

        • 0 avatar
          thelaine

          Energy density is exactly correct. That is also why solar and wind will never be more than niche energy sources. Nuclear is the only viable large-scale “alternate” energy to hydrocarbons. There is a reason why we all use them, all around the world.

        • 0 avatar

          Here’s a really good article on the theoretical limits of batteries.

          http://thebulletin.org/limits-energy-storage-technology

          • 0 avatar
            thelaine

            Outstanding article. Much obliged.

          • 0 avatar
            FractureCritical

            good article, but it’s largely irrelevant.
            there’s a car out there RIGHT NOW that can store 300 miles of range, which is roughly equivalent to a decent ICE gas tank. it doesn’t matter that you need a bunch more batteries to hit that goal because you have the power to move the extra weight around, anyway. look at the math:

            15 gallons of gas at 20 mpg weighs about 100lbs and gets you 300 miles.

            A Tesla Model S P85 (in theory) gets 300 miles of range and the whole friggin car weighs 4200 lbs.

            in a straight energy comparison at the rates stated in the article, the battery pack alone in the Tesla should weight 10,000 lbs!

            Where’d all that needed weight go! Well, it turns out that ICE engines aren’t all the efficient (they waste most of the energy as heat) and at best, you might get 30% efficiency out of the bestest ICE in the world, and you’re more likely getting 15%-20% after real-world conditions and powertrain losses.

            Electric motors can rock out at 90% or more and they don’t piss anything away through a transmission.

            the article you reference is fine – just for the batteries. but it’s myopic as far as the whole system is concerned and the conclusions don’t add up.

            At the end of the day, even if the battery weighs 20 times as much as a full tank of gas, you’re still sving oodles of weight from all the ICE nonsense that goes away, and what does 1000 lbs really even mean in a modern car? Maybe it’s not great for a track car, but for everyday use, it’s practically a non-issue and you know it.

            let’s do some system math: an electic drive train demands about 1/6th the pure energy draw that an elecric motor draws. so you don’t need to replace 50 megajoules of energy, you need to replace it with about 8 megajoules. weight wise at 1/100th the energy density of petroleum at current rates, you need 12.5x the weight of a 100lb tank of gas, or about 1300lbs. let’s say energy density doubles, which the article backs-up, so you now need 650lbs of batteries. how much did that that ICE drivetrain weigh? kill the transmission, cooling system, fuel system, heavy ICE engine, exhaust system, emissions components, etc.

            maybe it doesn’t get you all the way there, but it gets you really friggin close.

            you’re friend might be a physicist, but he’s not an engineer. ;)

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      “I wonder how much energy is going to be WASTED trying to improve battery technology for a purpose it isn’t suited for?”

      Define “wasted.” Enlighten us as to who is doing the wasting. I’d like a smartphone with two-week recharge intervals. I’d like a laptop or tablet that could stream 4 hours of Netflix for several days on end. Utilities would like to be able to plant batteries in substations to smooth out loads and provide short-term power during interrruptions.

      There are a lot of companies trying to improve battery technology for a lot of reasons. Most of them aren’t automotive, although some auto makers seem unusually interested in leveraging existing battery tech into autos. Other automakers consider that a waste of time and, therefore, don’t do it.

  • avatar
    Scott_314

    Disagree with this guy, they’re already getting close with existing technology. A couple more plug-in hybrids that bring the electric range up to 60 miles, and the price premium down to say $5K, and more and more people will bite.

    Plus a system that doesn’t lower gas taxes year in, year out for two decades to actually encourage people to conserve (had to get that in there).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “Kato believes there are few customers seeking a vehicle with short cruising ranges”

    110k+ Nissan Leaf customers would disagree.

    He wouldn’t say this if Toyota offered such a car, but instead he’s pushing fuel cell vehicles that have no future.

    • 0 avatar
      J.Emerson

      I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be saying this if the Japanese government wasn’t throwing its weight behind hydrogen.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      If Toyota thought that it made sense to offer a Leaf rival, then it would.

      The EV part of the equation is easy. Every major automaker knows how to build them.

      The problem lies with the battery, which is a component that Toyota and other automakers can do very little to improve. The automakers are engineers and manufacturers, not scientists. Invent a better battery, and the automakers will get into the EV business.

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      Article: ““Kato believes there are few customers seeking a vehicle with short cruising ranges””

      SCE: “110k+ Nissan Leaf customers would disagree.”

      Over 2-3 years? Worldwide? With heavy subsidies? The use of “few” is fully justified.

      SCE: “He wouldn’t say this if Toyota offered such a car, but instead he’s pushing fuel cell vehicles that have no future.”

      Don’t kid yourself; if Toyota wanted to build a range-compromised Leaf-type car, they could easily do it. Given the low volume of EVs selling now, procrastinating until better, more effective batteries are available isn’t going to hurt them at all.

  • avatar
    jimf42

    See the Argonne National Laboratory JCESR project research…the idea is to make large advances in battery tech. http://www.jcesr.org/

    That being said, hydrogen is much more practical near term.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    EVs and other forms of so-called “alternative” energy will sweep over the world like a tidal wave the day that a reasonably priced battery the size of a beer keg can store the energy production of a windmill for a month, and a battery for a Leaf is the size of a coffee can.

    Until then, it’s a pretty tough row to hoe.

    The thing is, nobody can really predict when that quantum leap in battery tech will occur. It could be 10 years (a reasonable guess), a month (unlikely), or 100 years (much as I love ICE vehicles, we better hope it doesn’t take this long).

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Although I believe the hydrogen future is a pipe dream, all the promise of high-density battery storage remains elusive as well.

  • avatar
    mcs

    >> The thing is, nobody can really predict when that quantum leap in battery tech will occur.

    True. Breakthroughs can’t be predicted. Progress in understanding quantum physics is moving forward every day and there have been a lot of advances in nano-scale technology. When that magical perfect storm of small incremental technology advancements comes together for a significant leap in technology, it’s hard to say. There’s even a good possibility it could be a technology that’s totally unexpected.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      That’s basically what he’s saying. You can’t plan a car for ten years in the future based on existing battery technology making steady, substantial improvements. You really need a quantum leap into something other than chemical reaction batteries that can’t be totally drained without damaging them, and gradually lose their ability to hold a charge, in addition to insufficient storage/weight and recharge times.

      Lots of people have been saying that for a long time, but maybe due to his position, Kato’s words will be taken more seriously. Unfortunately, the people least likely to be listening are the politicians and bureaucrats like those at CARB who barely understand ANY technology issues, who think if they pass a law/regulation mandating “zero-emission” cars, they will magically appear on the market.

  • avatar

    It is frustrating to reports of Toyota going with Hydrogen instead of EV’s. Hydrogen cars are a type of electric car, an EV with an on-board generator in the form of a Fuel Cell.

    It is surprising to see so many negative comments from EV proponents. Hydrogen Cars are electric cars, they behave very much like EV’s. They are in an earlier stage of development than current BEV and PHEV’s but the day Hydrogen is an alternative to current EV offerings will come. The day maybe a long way off due to additional hurdles the technology has to overcome, whereas EV’s are pretty much shovel ready.

    It seems Toyota’s strategy is to replace the gasoline engine in the Prius with a Fuel cell. They prefer the hybrid approach, which has brought them much success. They are good at hybrids, not so much at full electric. Not sure Hybrids will be around forever though.

    • 0 avatar
      FractureCritical

      it’s not frustrating, it’s logic.
      there are no end to industries that rely on batteries and invest in battery development including military, industrial tooling,computers, and a little venture industry called telecom. there are billions upon billions of dollars poured into battery R&D every day from a plethora of sources.

      or you can use a fuel cell which had zero infastructure for distribution, minimal R&D investment, and is not easily stored. It’s not practical, it’s not smart, and it really and truly is only the wet dream of a few myopic scientists and engineers. tell me i’m wrong.

  • avatar
    James2

    Not a fan of EVs or even hybrids BUT what if every automaker came to an universal agreement to use standardized batteries (you know, AA, C, D, etc.) whose packaging was a known quantity, then you could stuff the newest, latest and greatest chemistry inside.

    Think Rayovac Alkaline vs. Energizer Lithium. Both can be had in common sizes.

    Your 2020 Leaf II could still be using lithium-ion, but suppose in 2025 some genius invented a nano-unobtanium-phosphate battery boasting 2X range…

    Probably a pipe dream since the consumer electronics guys can’t even decide on a standard AC adapter.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Toyota has been consistent in its position shunning EVs as the next generational solution. This has been their message publicly for close to a decade now.

    What’s interesting is that some of their non-hybrid offerings are getting dated, and although delivery excellent fuel economy are matched or beaten by the competition now (1.8, 2.4, 3.5, 4.7). They continue to deliver the goods in the hybrid space.

    It is definitely very interesting that Toyota is saying EV is not the way to go, and banking on hydrogen.

    They aren’t the only one, almost every major maker has at least a pilot program going and a number of vehicles on the street.

    Generally agree with Toyota and above posters that energy density, charging time, and range remain issues for EVs. Tesla has addressed a number of these, but with a very large price tag to get there.

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Sorry but Toyota’s continued insistence that EVs are not going to be a significant part of the future fleet just sounds like them admitting that they are failing in that area.

      The reality is that EVs work right now and that those current EVs do meet their buyer’s needs. I know people who are very happy with their Leafs (3), Teslas (2 Model S 1 Roadster), Volt (1) (I know the Volt isn’t a pure EV but the person I know who has one mainly uses it in EV mode). At 6 mos or so in he had only purchased something like 3 tanks of gas. Two of the Leaf owners have taking their cars on trips from Seattle to Portland and back and the Roadster driver has taken his car on trips to California from the Seattle area.

      Could better technology make them better? Certainly. That better technology will come around and the percentage of EVs in the fleet will continue to rise. Just the other day I was at the local shopping center when a Frito Lay delivery truck rolled in. What was emblazoned on the side of it? 100% electric.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        Toyota helped to spearhead the development of hybrids because of the limitations of batteries.

        Toyota is an automaker. It is not a battery research laboratory. It is not in a position to revolutionize the battery, just as Toyota isn’t going to get into the oil business.

        Tesla isn’t in that position, either. Its solution to the battery density problem has been to install a much larger, heavy battery that costs too much to make and that takes up a lot of space, and then to push that battery harder than a conventional automaker would. This is a scientific problem that a manufacturer isn’t going to remedy; low energy density is inherent to batteries.

  • avatar
    Xeranar

    Company that is already making shift to Hydrogen fuel cells and having the help of their home government making it viable castigates EV technology. Is that the point I’m supposed to take away here or am I supposed to take his argument at face value? I’m not doubting that EVs need improvement, I’m just a bit hard-pressed to believe Mr. Kato is arguing a point in good faith.

    Then again, I would be fine going Hydrogen Fuel Cells if we invested in the Hydrogen fuel infrastructure that could be up and running in less than a decade if our government would follow Japan on this.

  • avatar
    HydrogenOnion

    “Mitsuhisa Kato has little regard for the current crop of EVs, proclaiming the technology to make them viable in his eyes has yet to be invented.”

    “Toyota itself is moving away from EVs into hydrogen with the upcoming 2015 FCV;”

    Is this guy the Japanese version of GM’s former CEO Rick Wagoner?

    Seriously… he’s saying EVs aren’t viable and then pushes hydrogen vehicles… which are far less viable than any BEV.

    Maybe what’s really going on here is a gentleman’s agreement they have with Tesla.


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