By on May 19, 2009

Bloomberg is all over Bill Reinert’s presentation to a National Academy of Sciences panel today in Washington. And why not? Toyota’s US national manager for advanced technology says plug-in hybrid vehicles are a non-starter. “Toyota estimates sales of hybrids that can be recharged at household outlets may be 50,000 units a year at most and could be as few as 3,500.” Not expressed: those kind of numbers wouldn’t even pay the HVAC bill for the building where Chevy engineers are busy trying to cobble together the new plug-in electric/gas hybrid Volt. Reinert’s not dancing on the Volt’s grave, but that’s only because it’s not dead. Yet. But the signs—admittedly as provided by the vehicle’s competitors—are not good.

Tests of Priuses fitted with $10,000 lithium-ion packs from battery maker A123 Systems Inc. found fuel economy rose only to mid-to-low 50 miles per gallon from the standard Prius’s 46 mpg rating, Toyota said. The results of the tests by Google Inc.’s Google.OrgConsumer Reports and Portland General Electric include energy used to recharge the extra batteries.

The automaker also cited recent studies by Duke University and Carnegie Mellon University showing plug-ins may provide only limited reduction of greenhouse gases compared with current hybrids such as Prius that don’t need to be plugged in.

What say you GM?

GM hasn’t changed its plan to begin selling the Volt in 2010, said Mark Verbrugge, director of the company’s materials and processes laboratory in Warren, Michigan.

Projected costs have come down, but not as far as the company would have liked, Verbrugge said. He declined to say anything about the vehicle’s projected sticker price.

Oh dear.

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33 Comments on “Volt Birth Watch 141: Toyota Laughs at the Volt, Indirectly...”


  • avatar
    TRL

    Kind of reminds me of back when GM was using all the charts and graphs to prove Hybrids (like the Pius) just didn’t make a lot of sense.

    Toyota won by ignoring the facts – because they were smart.

    Good a chance that GM will win by ignore these facts – because they are stupid.

    Doesn’t matter, same result. Half-full, half-empty.

  • avatar

    Toyota has a very strong stake in this, and is using arguments oddly similar to those that used to be tossed at the Prius.

    Maybe I’ve got bad info, but I have read that Toyota has invested extensively in NiMH battery production, and so wants to avoid a shift to lithium ion. Much like GM initially avoided the shift to all-steel body construction back in the 1930s because the Fisher Brothers had invested heavily in lumber.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Michael Karesh,

    Toyota is heavily invested in both forms of battery technology, and will be using Li-ion in the plug-in Prius. Toyota is being conservative about the possible risks with Li-ions, especially in terms of degradation of range, etc. over the long haul. Toyota has had such good experiences with NiMH that they’re reluctant to change until they feel comfortable. And they’re also working on chemistry beyond Li-ion. I would not compare it to wood bodies. Let’s first see how well the Li-ion packs hold up.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    I’ve been doing a little informal research on lithium ion batteries as they relate to laptop computers ….and they don’t look so great to me – at least for car applications. They diminish in capacity over a couple of years, and they don’t like being hot or cold.

    Tell me again what’s so great about lithium ion, and why it’s an improvement, please.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Why can’t Toyota make the Prius plug-in capable and just blow GM’s Volt apart? End of story, GM is going to ride this Volt thing into the ground until someone shoves it so far up their ass that it makes their heads spin. Our tax money is paying for this, and it’s going to be a massive failure. Someone needs to bury it now before another billion is pissed away on it.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    Michael: I disagree.

    Toyota actually made the new Prius effectively future proof. It has a big enough electric motor to be a decent plug-in hybrid (the Gen 2 Prius isn’t big enough in the electric department, which is why those Gen 2 plug-in Prii tests are rather dissapointing, neither is the new Insight).

    Toyota is just realistic on battery chemistry and being honest and open about it.

    LiIon or LiFeP (more likely, actually) is not yet proven enough for auto use in terms of cycle time, thermal behavior, and capacity (and “light-on-fireness”). And Toyota knows it, as does Honda, as does Ford.

    If someone does a real breakthrough on battery chemistry, they will be very easily be able to shift the Prius to a Lithium chemistry (as only the charger and battery pack needs to change) and convert to a plug-in architecture.

    And since the new Prius, unlike the Insight, actually has a good sized electric motor (80hp), with a better battry pack it CAN be a good plug-in design.

    The price on the Volt is so out of line compared to the Prius that its not a concern: the concern is the Insight and its low price tag.

  • avatar
    Happy_Endings

    Maybe I’ve got bad info, but I have read that Toyota has invested extensively in NiMH battery production, and so wants to avoid a shift to lithium ion.

    One of the reasons Toyota bought a stake in Subaru/FHI was for their lithium ion battery technology.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2005/10/05/gm-sells-subaru-stake-to-toyota/

  • avatar
    KixStart

    The test vehicle is an old Prius, hardly optimized for a battery upgrade. The 2010 Prius, as Nicholas Weaver points out, is more robust and can take better advantage of a larger battery.

    Further, drilling through to the “Wired” article on their test:
    “The Li-Ion doesn’t get any regeneration from coasting or braking as does the stock NiMH battery.”

    A huge part of the energy budget is the recycled energy.

    There aren’t a lot of good conclusions to be drawn from a test of the add-on on an older Prius.

    I’ve also read articles (no link handy) about Toyota and their Panasonic JV doing Li-Ion battery development. They’re plenty busy on that. Nobody’s going to leave options unexplored. There’s also a big tax credit on the ttable; Toyota can’t overlook the benefits of having Uncle Sam provide cash marketing support for their car.

    I think Toyota’s focus continues to remain on price. At $22K, the Prius is a reasonable hit. There’s a l-o-n-g list of GM cars that don’t sell anywhere near as well as the Prius. At this point, a big storage battery adds a lot to the cost of the car and makes it difficult to get it into the mid $20s. Since GM’s plans, apparently, involve losing money for the next dozen or so years, they’re not driven by cost and price.

    Toyota also points out that the 40 mile range of the Volt is a benefit and an Achille’s heel. Suppose you don’t need 40 miles per day? What if you only need 20? If that’s the case, you’re paying a big premium for a capability that you don’t need.

    Toyota has perhaps also figured (rightly, in my opinion) that people who want an electric or other advanced drivetrain vehicle already have made fuel-saving decisions in terms of lifestyle; they don’t drive very far (house close to train or work, etc). Getting a 12-15 mile range vehicle onto the road at $26K might steal well over half the Volt’s potential sales.

    Nicolas Weaver: “The price on the Volt is so out of line compared to the Prius that its not a concern: the concern is the Insight and its low price tag.”

    You’re most likely correct about the Volt but I think Honda has missed (and I wish they hadn’t). It’s a mere $2.2K cheaper (and there’s an even less expensive $21K Prius on the horizon, we think) but the Prius boasts a magic number: 50mpg. That makes the Insight’s 41mpg look sooo last year. And the Prius is noticeably more roomy inside. I think it will sell OK to Honda loyalists (nothing wrong with that) but there will be few conquests. In this market, I think people will spend a few extra dollars for the bump from 41 to 50mpg, especially if they get a more roomy car in the bargain.

    If Honda had brought this in for the originally rumored $18K, then they’d have something. This is too close in price to the Prius to compete well with the nicer, higher mpg car.

    Nicholas Weaver: “If someone does a real breakthrough on battery chemistry, they will be very easily be able to shift the Prius to a Lithium chemistry (as only the charger and battery pack needs to change) and convert to a plug-in architecture.”

    That’s another huge Achille’s heel for the Volt… when the battery performance and economics are right, other players will rapidly enter the market. GM is in real danger for companies with a proven track record for bringing reliable cars to market very quickly. And GM does not own the key enabling technology.

    GM is spending a lot of money to be first to roll out 10K Volts per year when the Volt’s capability, utility and price/performance could easily be eclipsed in 6 to 12 months by something else.

  • avatar
    T2

    Good for Bill Reinert – he’s right.

    The VOLT has capable people on its team like Denise Gray, for instance, but the project is the result of flawed thinking from management as has been raised by several other commenters at TTAC as well as myself.

    But GM isn’t the only company at fault, I would like to see Bill go after the Honda Insight as well. Answer me this, if that integrated motor assist (IMA) model works so well why do they have to fit a 1.3L engine which somewhat slants the deck ?

    I am sure that if the non-hybrid Honda Civic was given such an engine instead of the 1.8L it is currently overpowered with, then it would be getting outstanding mileage also. Just sayin’.

    I might mention that I have been involved with EV’s for more than 30 yrs in one way or another. Time enough to have to have drawn conclusions on these types of hybrid.

    That leaves the Prius. I know what some of you may be thinking. He’s not going to attack the Prius, is he ? Well, Yes HE is.

    Is it just me or is the Prius just too damn elaborate for its own good ? With a new 1.8L engine on board there’s plenty of power. I say time to ditch that NiMH battery overboard.

    Look, the Prius is not an electric car. Never was, never is. It’s all about being an electric transmission. Unfortunately some pricks, you know who they are, those deviants down in Davis, So. Cal. who can’t leave well enough alone. Can’t design their own electric vehicle but still not stopping them from trying to make the Prius into one with all their effing PHEV nonsense. That has to be the wrong way. We don’t need more battery, we need less. Doesn’t this thing cost enough already ?

    It just happens that if we look to the future, it is entirely possible to go battery-less with the Toyota HSD system or ‘virtual battery’ as I call it. Let’s slow down a bit here, so I don’t lose anybody, but obviously the main hi-voltage DC bus on the Prius, in the absence of a high voltage battery, will still need to be “defibrillated” occasionally from some other power source so that the generator can switch its role to motoring in order to start a stationary engine. To do that you just need some black box device connected to the existing 12volt battery. Problem solved.

    Sure the idea is merely vaporware right now, but such a system could have the potential to reduce the hybrid premium to zero. It’s too bad I have to end on a down note here. Just seems like Toyota has been able to halt spending on hybrid development while they are surrounded by such pathetic competition at the moment. That’s all I’ve got.
    T2

  • avatar
    dex3703

    KixStart:

    Thanks for the great analysis. Very well put that even in the best case, GM could get sideswiped by faster, more agile companies when the right battery appears. I imagine it would be like IBM and the PC. Clones overtook the PC very quickly.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Lokkii: “I’ve been doing a little informal research on lithium ion batteries as they relate to laptop computers ….and they don’t look so great to me – at least for car applications. They diminish in capacity over a couple of years, and they don’t like being hot or cold.”

    I would hope that the automotive batteries are designed with long life and cold-weather performance in mind. There were some rumors that GM was going to deal with potential short battery life by pricing two batteries (the first and the warranty replacement) into the price of the car. This talk has subsided but leaves one suspicious.

    Also, I can’t help but notice that my laptop battery, nominally a 3 hour battery and originally good for 2.5 hours, is now a 55 minute battery after only 1.5 years and relatively infrequent use away from the dock.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    T2: Actually, the Gen 3 prius IS an electric car.

    With an 80 hp! electric motor, which is before the CVT transmission (Gasoline clutch motor/generator CVT Wheels), the new Prius is a very credible car in electric-only mode.

    Its just the battery technology isn’t here yet for a viable electric-only car.

    If anything, the 2010 Prius is the first “future proof” car: if battery technology improves, it becomes a real extended-range electric car, but unlike the Volt, it doesn’t rely on the battery technology arriving to be economically viable.

  • avatar
    Nicholas Weaver

    KixStart: Thats why I’d bet on Lithium Ferro-Phosphate batteries.

    Lithium-ion batteries, above 100F, can’t be charged without damaging the battery. Thus the battery needs special cooling to make sure it doesn’t run hot.

    LiFeP doesn’t have this problem, but it doesn’t have the energy density of LiIon.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    “Projected costs have come down, but not as far as the company would have liked, Verbrugge said. He declined to say anything about the vehicle’s projected sticker price.”

    Oh dear indeed. That $40k Volt is starting to sound like wishful thinking. Is there time time to stick a “Crest and Wreath” on it? The world needs an extended range electric Cadillac. Of course, it needs a name… I think Cimarron sounds about right.

  • avatar
    don1967

    Kind of reminds me of back when GM was using all the charts and graphs to prove Hybrids (like the Pius) just didn’t make a lot of sense. Toyota won by ignoring the facts – because they were smart.

    Toyota won by being a better car company over the past 30 years, not by selling a bunch of goofy golf carts in the middle of a gas price frenzy.

    Hybrids never did make sense, except for one brief shining moment which will likely not be repeated for many years to come.

  • avatar
    gamper

    I feel that GM is doing the right thing by staying the course on the Volt. The Volt itself may never be commercially viable but it may be a platform for better technologies down the road. I would echo some of the comments made by other members on similar shots taken at the Prius over the years. It is strange that Toyota has on numerous occasions publicly dissed GM’s series hybrid as not being a serious threat to parallel design. The rarely take the time to comment on GM anything, particularly in the negative.

  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    but doesn’t this eventually revolve around the fact that a plug in electric never requires you to visit the gas station except to pump up your tyres?

    you avoid the whole petro-cycle (and the taxes)

  • avatar
    steller

    Read recently that China will be sending a battery powered car to our shores that will deliver 250 miles/charge. GM needs to look further to power the Volt!
    C. Steller

  • avatar
    KixStart

    gamper: “It is strange that Toyota has on numerous occasions publicly dissed GM’s series hybrid as not being a serious threat to parallel design.”

    Got a link to a direct quote to that effect?

    I doubt it.

    You might have a link to a quote by Lutz whining saying that Toyota had dissed their car but you’ll find no such quote from Toyota itself. Lutz was exaggerating. To say the least.

    Toyota has, on a couple of occasions, remarked that they don’t think the economics are there for an RE-EV, so they’re not doing it. Something wrong with that? One of their CEO’s jobs, for instance, is to reassure their stockholders and stakeholders that they have a sound plan for the future. Avoiding uneconomic cars would be part of a sound plan, wouldn’t it?

    Considering that Toyota took a big gamble with hybrids, starting back in 1995 and that it’s paying off with sales, respect and profits, I’d say their reassurances to their stockholders and stakeholders are quite reasonable and that Toyota is very credible.

    On the other hand, Maximum Bob himself has said that GM won’t make any money on the Volt “for years.” Now, there is a sound business plan. Lose money on a car that gives you no appreciable marketing or technology edge! Sign me up for some of that new-issue GM stock!

  • avatar
    M1EK

    don1967, you have no clue what you’re talking about – the Prius makes sense at $2/gallon gas, as evidenced by the fact that it continues to outsell Buick and Saturn and Mercury.

  • avatar
    sd01g

    The series hybrid is a loser because the ICE is used to generate electricity and not to help to directly move the car. The best use of the plug in hybrid is the Toyota Highlander hybid model: 4 wheel drive without a transfer case. Anyone who cares about electric/hybrid cars should read the 2008 Altairnano annual report–this is the battery that can charge to 90% in 10 minutes and lasts 25K deepcharge/discharge cycles. Everything else is obsolete.

  • avatar
    King Bojack

    The Prius’ best accomplishment so far is as a marketing tool to get other car makers to pour billions into high tech cars that sales aside from Prius (and maybe Insight2.0) prove hardly any one wants.

    Shit, imagine if GM was able to ignore the Prius green onslaught and pour the cash they’ve used on Volt on to the rest of their line up or to buy out dealers or to this or to that. Toyota can laugh at GM for this or for that because they know regardless of what happens now the overall damage to the industry brought on by the hybrid rage will be long lasting.

    Hybrids are essentially the free soda refill campaign started by Taco Bell that the whole rest of the restaurant biz has lost billions because of.

  • avatar
    Blobinski

    King Bojack – the Prius business model plain works. The proof is in the sales of the car. here in Washington State they are everywhere. The truth is that people will either ‘buy’ the pitch line or not. The Mazda rotary and miller cycle engines were very cool, but the buying public never truly bit long term. Toyota nailed it plain and simple.

    GM is/was hoping that all the money they spent developing the Volt would be parlayed into Government ‘green’ funding, tax credits, and a huge publicity campaign…

  • avatar
    RogerB34

    > “Toyota estimates sales of hybrids that can be recharged at household outlets may be 50,000 units a year at most and could be as few as 3,500.”
    Careful – remember early 50’s IBM estimated a very limited market for photocopiers nation wide. Xerox thought otherwise. It’s a new market.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    King Bojack: “Shit, imagine if GM was able to ignore the Prius green onslaught and pour the cash they’ve used on Volt on to the rest of their line up or to buy out dealers or to this or to that. Toyota can laugh at GM for this or for that because they know regardless of what happens now the overall damage to the industry brought on by the hybrid rage will be long lasting.”

    GM could still do that. US Car sales are still something like 10 million per year… hybrids are in the neighborhood of 3% of that. GM could give up this one piece of the market, tactically, as long as they developed compelling product for the rest.

    Well, I used to think GM could still do that. Maybe it’s entirely too late for GM.

    RogerB34,

    Xerox made a market by building an inexpensive photocopy process.

    Can GM build a market by making a far more expensive car?

  • avatar
    gamper

    kickstart, here you go.

    Maybe next time try googling the subject. Anyone else hear those bells ringing? Let me know if you need help with that one.

    http://www.autoblog.com/2007/09/06/toyota-takes-a-shot-at-chevy-volt/

    http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/848.html

    http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/09/24/toyotas-irv-miller-jumps-into-series-parallel-debate-again-now/

  • avatar
    KixStart

    gamper,

    Let’s see…

    Check a link… Toyota claims their approach is superior. Yep, I said they’d done so.

    Check a link… Toyota claims their approach is superior. Yep, I said they’d done so.

    Check a link… Toyota claims their approach is superior. Yep, I said they’d done so.

    So, where did Toyota diss the Volt?

    Now, let’s remember that there’s ample opportunity to laugh at GM for the idea that a compact car will sell for $40K (GM agrees, which is why they went running for a massive tax credit), that their first year of production is a pitiful 10K units and that GM won’t actually own the key enabling technology; they’re just buying giant pallets of “D” cells from LG, as can anyone with cash in hand. Toyota could even point out that GM’s current hybrids are the marketplace losers: amazingly expensive to develop, ridiculously expensive to build, prohibitively expensive to buy and selling in microscopic quantities (Oh, yeah, I believe GM can develop leapfrog tech and I believe in the Tooth Fairy).

    Now, if they’d done anything like that, I’d say, sure, Toyota’s dissing GM’s toy car. Sorry… future toy car.

    But, Toyota simply pointed out, in appropriate venues, and with specific reasons, that they had faith in their approach. And, based on cost, profitability and unit volume, I’d say they’re on to something.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    “Hybrids never did make sense, except for one brief shining moment which will likely not be repeated for many years to come.”

    Imagine my surprise to read a “Golf Cart” related rant from the usual suspect.

    To-wit (twit?); even the slightest sniff of possible economic stabilisation has the oil price climbing.

  • avatar
    tony7914

    TonyJZX :
    May 19th, 2009 at 1:55 pm

    “but doesn’t this eventually revolve around the fact that a plug in electric never requires you to visit the gas station except to pump up your tyres?

    you avoid the whole petro-cycle (and the taxes)”

    For now it does.
    The feds and several states are still looking into taxing by the mile to recover losses from higher efficiency cars. Also if the cap and trade idea goes into effect a plug in car may not save you as much unless you generate your own electricity.

  • avatar
    Kasmir

    40 mile range? I have a hard time imagining who besides a zealot would buy such a vehicle as their primary conveyance. Even if 90% of your trips are <40 miles losing the ability to do the remaining 10% is an enormous give up. Also keep in mind that range/charge is an incomplete measure of utility compared to a gasoline or diesel powered alternative. Because the ubiquitous refueling infrastructure and very high rate of energy transfer during refueling, gasoline and diesel vehicles have unlimited miles/day, so “range” is not something you even need worry about. Unless a battery swapping infrastructure emerges, electric vehicles have limited utility/day to the point where you need to plan your life around their rechargings. To a non-zealot, the utility disadvantage to electric is enormous, at least 10:1. I might buy an electric vehicle as a supplemental conveyance if it were really cheap — like a motor bike — but never as a primary vehicle unless government intervention outlawed internal combustion or made it prohibitively expensive. Who would choose a car that (say) couldn’t make it to the airport so you could meet your family? Or worry about driving to a business lunch because you might not make it home? I would guess that electric vehicles would have to do *at least* 200 miles/overnight charge to reach general utility.

  • avatar
    T2

    -Nicholas Weaver : Thanks for responding
    Actually, the Gen 3 prius IS an electric car.
    I’ll try to avoid the semantics here, but an 80Hp electric motor does not an electric car make.
    First the new Gen 3 has the same battery energy as the previous Gen2, namely 1300Whrs, so it is no more the electric car than it was previously.
    Second the 72A-Hr lead-acid in your car, by comparison, stores about 900Whrs so this is a similar small amount of energy. Someone may correct me but this represents less than a half pint of gasoline. With this amount of energy the Prius battery will give you only a couple of miles at 42mph since the Prius limits depth of discharge to 20% for longevity reasons. Just not enough to warrant classifying as an electric car in my opinion, but quite useful to avoid unnecessary gasoline engine startups in stop n’ go driving I’ll admit.
    On the Prius, the NiMH Battery ECU allows up to a maximum of 10Kw braking energy absorption, granted that it provides significantly reduced brake wear, but this is nowhere near the 100kw that the battery on the VOLT could absorb. But then the VOLT IS a genuine electric car.

    However don’t let the fact that the Prius is not an electric car, in the pure sense, shield you from realizing the huge advantage of having a partially decoupled engine on the powertrain of a vehicle. I would advise you not to get hung up on the battery but concentrate that you have an engine which is always in the right gear. Close to lugging when cruising but able to soar, freed from the inertia of the vehicle, to redline at a moments notice. With conventional powertrains the engine is handicapped by having to drag the whole vehicle along with it as it strives to reach maximum power at redline.

    It’s just the battery technology isn’t here yet for a viable electric-only car
    I beg to disagree and somewhere in the desert lay 300 crushed EV1’s to prove it. It wasn’t that the battery packs weren’t up to the task. It was just the mind of a man that wasn’t up to it. A man who was recently relieved of his post by the President of the United States if I recall.

    Needless to say, a 120 mile range 2 seater that plugs in at home won’t suit 100% of the population. That’s right. Perhaps only 85% to 90% could be satisfied. But that 85% to 90% still have the option to ‘day rent’ a more versatile gasoline powered vehicle when needed.
    T2

  • avatar
    Bridge2far

    Check out the reliability of this Toyota hybrid…

    http://jalopnik.com/5261006/toyota-hybrid-breaks-down-towed-off-track-before-nascar-event

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