PLUG OK license plate
CA Prop 10&Plug-Ins; Toyota&Batteries; Honda&Electrics; RMI Charrette Projects
Oct 22, 2008 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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CALIFORNIA PROPOSITION 10 (AND OTHER PROPS): Two weeks from now, Californians will vote on Proposition 10, The California Alternative Fuels Initiative. Both it and Proposition 7, The Solar and Clean Energy Initiative, are controversial. In both cases, a preponderance of business, community, environmental leaders and organizations and major newspaper editorials are opposing them as poorly drafted with little outside consultation, questionably motivated, and having a potentially counterproductive impact, while excluding important green solutions. Proposition 1, Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, financing for a train to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than 3 hours, is generally favored on its merits, with its opponents primarily citing financial concerns.

For neutral discussions and pointers to resources and commentaries by both sides, see:­wiki/­index.php?title=California_Proposition_10_(2008)­wiki/­index.php?title=California_Proposition_7_(2008)­wiki/­index.php?title=California_Proposition_1_(2008)

We're posting this information because a large number of CalCars-News readers are in California. We're also doing so because the coalition against Proposition 10, which includes the Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists and other environmental groups, has begun adopting a long-time talking point of plug-in advocates: the best way to use the energy in fuels like natural gas (and ethanol) is in central power plants rather than in vehicle fuel tanks. The main factor is the greater efficiency of electric motors compared to internal combustion engines. Unerstanding this is a key breakthrough for a constituency that has sometimes been slow to endorse plug-in vehicles. We are particularly gratified to see the Natural Resources Defense Council's direct statement on this: Natural gas vehicles can provide a modest reduction in global warming pollution. But Prop 10 would provide a disproportionate amount of funding to just this one fuel and give short shrift to other options, such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, that are more efficient and pollute less.­legislation/­calballotinitiatives2008.asp

TOYOTA VIEWS AND MOTIVATIONS: Here's a report from Ward's Auto that give some answers to those who wonder why Toyota is slow on lithium batteries: "Toyota to Stick By NiMH" by David E. Zoia Sep 18, 2008­electronics/­toyota_stick_nimh_080918/­ ARGONNE, IL - Toyota Motor Corp. is moving ahead with plug-in hybrids, electrical vehicles and lithium-ion batteries, but it isn't ready to abandon the tried and true, says one of the auto maker's top researchers. Toyota is the world's hybrid-electric vehicle leader, having sold some 1.5 million HEVs worldwide -- all based on more mature nickel-metal-hydride battery technology, notes Noburu Kikuchi, director of the Ann Arbor, MI-based Toyota Research Institute of North America. "But in the near future, if you look at it realistically, we have accumulated so much technology in NiMH that simply giving up (on that) might not be a good idea," Kikuchi says. He says work on a new generation of EVs has been accelerated and they'll be on the market "in the near future," likely sometime around 2010. "But for that, we really need your assistance," he tells battery developers in attendance. Batteries "must be dependable and not only offer safety but low cost. "We need a Li-ion battery that can be superior to the NiMH batteries we're now using."

WHY HONDA DOESN'T DO PLUG-INS: To understand why Honda is increasingly isolated as a plug-in holdout, read the entire story excerpted below: "Green-car era poses test for Honda Posted by Automotive News in The Car Tech blog October 17, 2008­8301-13746_7-10064387-48.html

Now, Honda's go-it-alone streak is being tested anew--in a green-car era when automakers are racing to crank up the miles per gallon. Like a decade ago, Honda is charting its own course. For instance, it has no interest in electric cars, despite the buzz for emissions-free driving. "Honda is doing it Honda's way," says Takaki Nakanishi, an auto analyst at JPMorgan Chase.

Honda's way: Honda's eco-car strategy differs starkly from that of its Japanese rivals. They are lining up joint ventures to produce advanced lithium ion batteries; looking to take hybrid technology into big, luxury cars; and rushing to roll out ultraclean electric vehicles. But Honda won't commit to a battery manufacturer. It sees the future of hybrids in inexpensive compacts. And its response to electric vehicles is a resounding "no, thanks."

Honda's contrarian instincts are rooted in the company's desire for financial and engineering efficiency. Honda's rivals have been installing hybrid drivetrains in luxury sedans and SUVs. Toyota Motors is making its next-generation Prius bigger and rolling out a new Lexus hybrid next year. Nissans first in-house hybrid will go into an Infiniti. Ford and General Motors have focused on hybrid SUVs and pickups. Yet Honda's biggest hybrid is the Civic. And the company's hybrids are only going to get smaller.

Masaaki Kato, president of Honda R&D, says small cars are better suited to hybrid systems because they typically are used for stop-and-go city driving. In that way, small cars take full advantage of the hybrid's regenerative braking to recharge the onboard battery. By contrast, other automakers see hybrid power trains as a way to improve their fleet fuel-efficiency averages by squeezing better gas mileage from sedans and trucks. Those companies also can better disguise the high cost of the hybrid hardware by wrapping it in an upscale vehicle. Honda wants the opposite: smaller hybrids with smaller sticker prices. "We are trying to make hybrid cars mainstream," Kato says, "and the biggest obstacle to that right now is price. Therefore, we are trying to bring the costs down and make hybrids affordable."

EVs? No, thanks: Honda also stands alone on electric vehicles, which many see as the future of automobiles. It pooh-poohs plug-ins and says today's lithium ion batteries are too wimpy for practical use. Says Honda's Kato: "Our stance is that the use of electric vehicles is limited. To get the performance of an Accord, in terms of driving range, from today's battery-only drivetrain, we would need to carry 2 tons of batteries. That's no good."In what critics call an even greater leap of faith, Honda is banking on hydrogen fuel cells as its future high-tech drivetrain. But even those rely on next-generation lithium ion batteries.

Fears of commitment: In another divergent strategy, Honda has no partnerships with electronics companies to build those sorely needed lithium ion batteries. Honda is sourcing current-generation nickel-metal hydride batteries from Matsushita Electric and Sanyo Electric. In contrast, Nissan has teamed with NEC on lithium ion batteries, Toyota is tied up with Matsushita, and Mitsubishi Motors has GS Yuasa. What's more, Honda is alone among those automakers in having no public plans to produce a car riding on lithium ion batteries, save its limited-edition FCX Clarity fuel cell sedan.

The technology is simply too immature to commit, says Honda CEO Takeo Fukui. Any one of those battery joint ventures could end up the front-runner, so why commit now? Plus, safety concerns remain about lithium ion batteries overheating and catching fire.

Risky business: Still, Honda's cautious attitude toward electric cars and lithium ion batteries could relegate it to an also-ran if someone else makes a breakthrough in these technologies. The company already is playing catch-up in the hybrid race with Toyota and can ill-afford another first-mover stumble. Honda easily could find itself pinched for sourcing if supply gets tight and it has to rely on a competitor's joint venture for lithium ion batteries, one of the car's most important components.

"Honda could well be at a distinct disadvantage," says Michael Wynn-Williams, a Japanese auto industry analyst at Global Insight. "Honda offers a lot of models that are designed for the urban environment and so could lose out to the growth in electric vehicles." R&D chief Kato is unfazed. Honda has the technological and engineering firepower to roll out almost any vehicle to match the market, be it electric, hybrid, diesel, or fuel cell, he says.

"Some manufacturers are going full steam ahead with electric vehicles and/or plug-ins to counter their image as producers of gas-guzzling vehicles," says Omotoso. "Desperate times call for desperate measures, but Honda isn't desperate."

ROCKY MOUNTAIN INSTITUTE SMART GARAGE CHARRETTE: The event we attended recently is Open-Source style. If you're interested in seeing how the action programs that are emerging evolve, you can start by downloading a quick overview of the six next-step projects that emerged as priorities at­tiki-download_file.php?fileId=27 .

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