Jul 20, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Here's an much-clearer, official English-language variant of the article we posted to CalCars-News yesterday. It's already gotten lots of attention, but if you read it closely, you can see that it's still only citing sources about preparations for TESTING that is a step forward, but we can't evaluate its significance. Maybe car magazines will to lie in wait on Japanese roads for what they call "spy photos."
We follow the Asahi bulletin with a story from a very careful reporter at the Christian Science Monitor with a provocative headline; "Toyota moves to corner the 'plug-in' market" and lead sentences citing "Toyota's revelation Tuesday" -- but when we read the story, it looks like the same "will develop" and "being looked at" language we've heard from Toyota for exactly one year and one day (see http://www.calcars.org/carmakers.html. It's too late on Friday afternoon to determine what's new here.
But the report is excellent, and it spills the beans on something many people don't know: CalCars' Prius was NOT the first PHEV to grow wings. (We brought one to Washington DC in May 2006 -- at http://www.calcars.org/phevs-in-dc.html see photos of the CalCars-SetAmericaFree events that marked the first time Members of Congress saw and drove PHEVs). Three years earlier, in 2003, Toyota flew an SUV, the Ford Explorer PHEV built by UC Davis students and Prof. Andy Frank, to its research HQ for a look. (Andy's other cars have been seen by GM and other automakers over the years as part of the FutureCar, FutureTruck and Challenge-X Programs.)
Toyota's plug-in car ready to hit the road
IHT/Asahi: July 20,2007
THE ASAHI SHIMBUN
A prototype hybrid car that can be recharged using an ordinary home electric outlet could be on streets as early as this month, sources said Wednesday.
Toyota Motor Corp. is likely to get the green light from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport to make test-runs of the vehicle on public roads, the sources said.
The company will be the first Japanese carmaker to win approval from the ministry for plug-in hybrid tests, giving it a jump-start on other manufacturers eager to get ahead in the burgeoning hybrid market.
Toyota will use the tests to collect practical data on the car's performance as a step toward putting the revolutionary vehicles on sale.
The plug-in hybrid vehicle will be more environmentally friendly than existing hybrid cars.
The new car has been designed to capitalize on technology already developed by Toyota in the manufacture of previous models of hybrids.
The plug-in has been developed based on the enormously successful Prius hybrid.
Current hybrid models are fitted with nickel-hydrogen batteries.
In order to make large-capacity charging necessary for the plug-in possible, Toyota switched to lithium-ion batteries.
Toyota is the only car manufacturer in Japan that has applied to the transport minister for approval of plug-in hybrid vehicles as experimental cars.
Once the car is ready to be sold commercially, Toyota intends to lease the vehicles to government agencies as a first stage in marketing.
Conventional hybrid vehicles run on a combination of gasoline engines and electric motors constantly recharged by an onboard engine.
Plug-in hybrids use less gasoline than conventional hybrids. They can be recharged at home and can run entirely on electricity for as long as the power lasts.
Electric vehicles that run only on electricity are said to be more environmentally friendly than hybrid vehicles because they have no emissions and do not use gasoline.
However, the cars can run only short distances before they run out of juice.
Toyota says plug-in hybrids offer the best of both kinds of vehicles.
Toyota moves to corner the 'plug-in' market Reversing course, the Japanese automaker reveals it will make hybrid cars that can go even farther on electricity. By Mark Clayton | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/0720/p02s01-ussc.html
CAPTION: ELECTRIFYING: Some Toyota Prius owners tinker with the hybrids to give them more juice. Ron Gremban of Corte Madera, Calif., added electric bicycle batteries to his car.
The plug-ins are coming.
Toyota's revelation Tuesday that it will develop a new "plug-in hybrid" - which uses a wall socket at night to charge and relies on an electric motor to go many miles before sipping any gasoline - could presage a major shift in automotive technology, some industry analysts say.
Detroit's Big Three have each said the technology is being looked at
- after years of outright dismissal. But Toyota's announcement was more significant because the company is presumed to have the technology to actually bring such cars to market, they say.
Toyota itself had steadfastly denied any interest in plug-in technology. A senior Toyota engineer told the Monitor early last year the company had little interest.
But gasoline prices have since soared to more than $3 a gallon. On Tuesday, the president of Toyota's North American subsidiary, Jim Press, said the company is looking at developing a plug-in vehicle that can "travel greater distances without using its gas engine." The technology would "conserve more oil and slice smog and greenhouse gases to nearly imperceptible levels".
The company is also developing flexible-fuel technology that could use E85 ethanol. If the two technologies were combined in one vehicle, it could help free the US from its oil dependence, some analysts say.
"When you combine plugging-in - which pushes fuel efficiency over 100 miles per gallon - with biofuels, then you're getting into multiple hundreds of miles per gallon," says Bradley Berman, publisher of hybridcars.com, a technology website. "It starts to look like a real here-and-now solution to oil dependence, air quality, and climate change."
Not everyone's convinced. Walter McManus, an industry analyst at the University of Michigan, says the technology may be too costly. "I don't think there's a huge market for them," he says.
But if Toyota's announcement caught some by surprise, it was certainly no surprise to Andy Frank.
Four years ago, the professor at the University of California at Davis and a team of engineering students created a plug-in vehicle. A typical hybrid has a big gasoline engine and a tiny electric motor. The university students reversed the roles by combining a more powerful electric motor that went 50 miles without using any gasoline.
No wimpy econo-box, the modified Ford Explorer was a 325 horsepower "rocket" that still got the equivalent of 100-plus miles per gallon even after a tiny gas engine kicked in, says Dr. Frank.
"The average person who drives 40 miles per day or less wouldn't use any gasoline at all," he says. "The only time would be on weekend trips and vacations across country."
The impact on America's dependence on foreign oil could be dramatic if such technology were widespread, according to energy-security hawks like former CIA director James Woolsey, who has cited the technology as a key to cutting US reliance on Mideast oil. President Bush also mentioned the technology in his State of the Union speech.
Frank's studies suggest a major impact on US oil dependence if most vehicles were plug-ins. While an average person might fill the tank with gasoline about 35 times a year, a plug-in would require perhaps six times.
A great idea? Perhaps. But when offered a detailed look at the machine, each of Detroit's Big Three took a pass, Frank says.
Toyota, however, accepted his offer. It loaded up the students' plug-in truck and flew it back to the company's research headquarters in Japan. A few weeks later the truck was returned intact, many of its technological secrets well digested.
Gas prices were probably the biggest factor in changing Toyota's stance. But it also probably helped that Daimler-Chrysler has been delivering its first plug-in hybrid vans to big companies.
That impetus, plus the other auto companies talking about it, apparently pushed Toyota to go public. After all, it has established a lead in hybrid technology with the Prius - and it wants to remain out in front.
Another factor might have been the nudge from a group of tech guys working in their garages, modifying a regular Prius into a plug-in vehicle. Such changes voided the warranty, but CalCars founder Felix Kramer says he's pleased if his group has goaded Toyota into making a production plug-in - the group's goal all along.
"I'm the first consumer-owner of a Prius converted to a plug-in and ... I'm getting at least 100 miles per gallon equivalent. We're still working on better versions, and it's catching on."
Battery technology remains a challenge. Deep discharges can wear out ordinary and previous-generation batteries. But Mr. Kramer says today's lithium ion batteries are up to the challenge.
In fact, since proving it could be done by making their own in a garage, after- market conversion companies are now offering to convert regular Priuses into plug-ins for about $10,000 to $12,000.
Despite some concerns that plugging in might stress the electric grid, or actually increase carbon dioxide emissions by relying on coal-fired power plants, Kramer is not worried. Most charging would be done at night, tapping power at a low-demand time. And because electric power is much more efficient per mile, the amount of pollution and carbon dioxide sent skyward would still be far less than an automobile engine, his analysis shows.
"What it gives you is the world's cleanest extended-range vehicle," he says. "If Toyota were to begin selling these tomorrow they could sell as many as they could build."