By on November 18, 2010

As Bertel reported this morning, the debut of Toyota’s first potential mass-market pure EV has not been an occasion for the Japanese automaker to trumpet battery-electric technology as a world-beater. In fact, given the kind of rhetoric that usually accompanies concepts like this Tesla-developed electric RAV4, Toyota is still treating electric vehicles as a limited, and relatively short-term trend that poses little threat to the gas-based core of its business. And there’s strong evidence that this is the right approach. Hybrids are the mass-market face of green motoring in the here-and-now, and a wave of hydrogen vehicles scheduled for 2015 could take considerable wind out of the EV bandwagon’s sales long-term. No wonder Toyota shoved development of the RAV4 EV to its idealistic “investment,” Tesla. This car is not the future… it’s an insurance policy.

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13 Comments on “What’s Wrong With This Picture: Toyota’s EV Insurance Edition...”

  • avatar

    I’m not betting on either H or batteries being more than a niche this decade, and probably next, but I think I have more confidence long term in batteries. It’s a good insurance policy.

  • avatar

    That’s a 2006-present body RAV4.  Does this mean they aren’t coming out with a new RAV for 2012? 

    It’s still class leading, but it’s getting pretty old.

  • avatar

    It’s the wrong kind of insurance policy.

    For some reason most manfucaturers think that slapping an alectric motor instead of a gas engine into a convenctional car is the way to do it.

    A competitive electric car requires a completely different approach. It would likely be lighter, more expensive, and would have a different exterior and interior arrangement. Much more attention has to be given to accessory/lighting power draw, underbody aerodynamics, and so on. Small inefficiencies that are unimportant on a gas engine start to matter a whole lot more.

    You’d have to have the right marketing approach, too. An electric car will survive for dozens of years, it’s not a throwaway sensor-laden, gasket-packed, complex modern rust bucket like the gas cars. If you keep telling consumers that it’s the same thing they bought last year, but it costs twice as much and can be plugged into an outlet, not a lot of people will bite.

    Pure electric drivetrain provides previously unthinkable engineering freedom, and failing to exercise it is what’s holding back electric cars right now.

    The first company to mass-produce a properly designed electric car will make a killing during the three or so years while the rest are catching up. Think FWD drivetrain revolution, only 10 times bigger.

    • 0 avatar

      Well said. Too many “electric cars” are converted gasoline cars. Tesla’s Roadster in particular. Just like the first cars were converted horse carriages.
      Stop trying to make an electric car that is the same as a gasoline car. Then, in some ways your car will be worse. In some ways, better. Overall, it will be much better.
      Why? Because you can convert electrical energy to mechanical energy at greater than 90% efficiency. Better yet, using your motor as a generator, you can convert it back, again at greater than 90% efficiency. All that is impossible with a heat engine like an internal combustion engine.
      In practical terms, the upshot of all that is that weight does not matter as much. If you speed up your car, then you can get back most of the energy that takes when you later brake for a stop. If you go up a hill, then you can get back most of the energy that takes when you later brake going down the hill.
      What matters most is rolling resistance and aerodynamic drag. Particularly at higher speeds, drag becomes the real factor, since it is proportional to the cube of speed.
      Because of this, a real electric car will focus on things that don’t matter much in a gasoline car. So a real electric car will:
      — be designed more like the racers that set land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats, with coefficients of drag looking more like airplanes than cars.
      — use an electric generator as its brakes rather than friction brakes, so as little energy as possible will be lost in accelerating and climbing hills.
      — have tires and wheels that minimize rolling resistance.
      — use wheel motors, with no transmission and with software four-wheel-drive.
      — not offer the power-hungry accessories we like so much. (You’ll probably be listening to your music on earbuds, for example, rather than big speakers that can be heard on the sidewalk. And cars in the frozen North will have a propane heater on board.)
      If Toyota (or anybody) built a car like that, then I think they would really have something. GM was starting to go down that path with its AUTOnomy and Hy-wire concept cars. But it drove those projects into a dead end, and brought us instead the converted-Cruze Volt.


    • 0 avatar

      Agreed.  It’s like alternative energy…it doesn’t make sense to have solar panels on your roof if you still have incandescent bulbs in your house and an electric clothes dryer.  The house was designed around cheap energy, and it just doesn’t make sense it have renewable energy until you limit your demand.

      An electric car aught to use a lot of carbon fiber to reduce weight, which in turn will reduce the size of the battery, further reducing weight and cost, which means you can get by with a smaller motor, etc.

      There are a lot of new opportunities for all-new layouts too.  I think this was best explored in the GM hywire concept car, with all the mechanicals in an 11″ thick chassis that could have new bodies dropped on.  You could also use the new-found space up front for a huge, easily replaceable crush-structure, improving safety.

      As gas gets more expensive, non-electric vehicles will have to take similar approaches.  I think in the future, cars will look a lot like the GM Ultralite concept of 1992.  That was a good performing, good size car that only weighed 1400 pounds and got 100mpg.  (I think direct-injection two-strokes also have a lot of potential for vehicle weight reduction)

      Edit- regenerative braking is not that efficient (yet). Something like 40%. I’m not sure why, but it probably has to do with how quickly the battery can be recharged. In the future, we’ll see ultra-capacitors for accelerating and braking, with a battery for energy storage. Even then, you’d still need frictional brakes for extreme stopping, unless your motor/generators come out to about 800hp per ton or something.

      Also, while I appreciate the simplicity of wheel motors, the unsprung weight on something like that would be huge. I could see having two small motors in place of a differential though.

  • avatar

    Alex, thanks for the insight.  That’s the proper way to look at it.  If you just put a new powertrain in an old car, you get an old car with a new powetrain.  What if the drive motor is a cylinder where the current differential on a RWD car is located now?  What if the battery container is a stressed element like engine blocks in race cars?  What other capabilities can an electric car have – can it be a backup power source for your house in a power outage?  What happens when the entire drivetrain consists of a cylinder that can be swapped in 2 hours and requires no access, unlike today’s IC engines?  What if the car itself was sold separately from the drive module, and the drive module was interchangeable, thus extending the life of the car to decades? 

  • avatar

    And finally, one of the biggest mistakes established companies make is assuming the pace of technical change will remain constant.  EV technology can change everything about the car, and the rate of change compared to year over year model changes could be 10x as fast.

  • avatar

    “a wave of hydrogen vehicles scheduled for 2015 could take considerable wind out of the EV bandwagon’s sales long-term.”
    Not likely.

  • avatar

    “a wave of hydrogen vehicles scheduled for 2015 could take considerable wind out of the EV bandwagon’s sales long-term”

    The hydrogen vehicles of which you speak are electric vehicles.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Hydrogen vehicles may be the future but not until electrics have had a good run. Here’s the drving log of a physicisian out in Jersey after nine days with his Chevy Volt that GM gave him. He is part of an advisory board. 176 MPG so far, let’s see you do that with your Prius or TDI VW!

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