Aug 6, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
Two influential publications each get how the car world works: everyone watches what everyone else does. After years in which the answer plug-in advocates got was "it isn't realistic until the carmakers are interested, the competition is now starting to work to our benefit!
The first article, by Jeff Green and Alan Ohnsman rom Bloomberg News, matches up the latest public announcements by GM and Toyota... with an insider saying the plug-in Prius will have a 10- to 20-mile electric range, vs. the Volt's 40-mile. (Our view is that if GM can get batteries it's happy with faster by settling for a shorter range, it should do so!)
The second is by Todd Woody, an assistant managing editor at Business 2.0 magazine who writes the Biz2 "Green Wombat" blog. Commenting on the exchange between Toyota's VP Irv Miller and V2G advocates http://www.calcars.org/calcars-news/814.html, he invites Honda, General Motors and Ford to join the conversations under way with utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and Google.org (in fact, Ford has already begun that with SCE). (You can post comments at the blog.)
Toyota Motor Corp.'s plug-in electric car may have less than half the range of a competing vehicle planned by General Motors Corp., people with knowledge of both companies' development programs said.
GM wants its Chevrolet Volt to travel at least 40 miles after being charged at a normal household outlet, while the Toyota model may go no more than 20 miles on a single charge, said the people, who asked not to be identified because details of the plans are still secret.
Beating Toyota in new technology like rechargeable vehicles is part of Chief Executive Officer Rick Wagoner's plan to show GM can compete with the Japanese automaker. Toyota is poised to surpass GM as the largest automaker this year, helped by fuel- efficient cars such as the Prius, the world's top-selling hybrid.
``The latest arms race is being driven by GM,'' said Jack Nerad, an analyst at Irvine, California-based Kelley Blue Book and author of ``The Complete Idiot's Guide to Hybrid & Alternative Fuel Vehicles.'' ``They one-upped everyone with the Volt, and they are saying they aren't going to be out-greened by anyone anymore.''
The market for cars less reliant on gasoline is growing as automakers face stricter exhaust and carbon pollution rules from governments around the world. The companies also are under pressure to boost fuel economy amid U.S. gasoline prices that reached a record $3.22 a gallon in May.
Prius shows the potential for breakthrough technology. Toyota sold 5,562 of the cars in 2000. Sales tripled the following year, and totaled 110,565 units this year through July. That makes the Prius the 12th most popular vehicle in the U.S., according to Autodata Corp., a Woodcliff Lake, New Jersey, company that monitors the industry.
Prius helped the Toyota City, Japan-based automaker earn a record $14 billion in its last fiscal year. GM lost $1.98 billion in 2006. GM shares have fallen 23 percent the last five years while Toyota's have more than doubled.
GM shares fell $1.35, or 4 percent, to $32.04 at 4:03 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. They've gained 4.3 percent this year. American depositary receipts of Toyota rose 31 cents to $118.90. They have fallen 11 percent this year.
Toyota said on July 25 it will road-test experimental plug- in Prius cars this year in the U.S. and Japan. The cars go about eight miles on a charge, Toyota Executive Vice President Masatami Takimoto said at a press conference in Tokyo.
A plug-in Prius for the consumer market would probably go farther, said Jaycie Chitwood, a U.S. senior strategic planner with Toyota's advanced vehicle group in Torrance, California. She declined to provide Toyota's target range.
Toyota believes producing an electric car with a range of 40 miles or more can't be done at a cost that would make the vehicle affordable for most consumers, she said, citing the need for advanced batteries and special recharging equipment. ``We're not going that route because of those obstacles,'' she said.
A plug-in Prius probably would have an electricity-only range of 20 miles or less, and maybe as little as 10 miles, according to a person with direct knowledge of Toyota's plans who didn't want to be identified.
GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said in June he's confident GM can overcome any obstacles to producing an electric car with a 40-mile range. GM says that target is significant because more than half of Americans live within 20 miles of their jobs. The automaker hopes to patent technology that would extend the range beyond 40 miles, people with direct knowledge of the plans said.
GM showed its Volt concept car in January and aims to have a drivable prototype in early 2008 that travels about 10 miles on a charge, the people said. The 40-mile Volt would follow in 2009 and might go on sale by the end of the decade, they said. GM spokesman Scott Fosgard declined to comment on the timetable.
The company poured more than $1 billion into its EV-1 electric car a decade ago. GM abandoned the vehicle, which needed frequent recharging, after leasing 800 of them in four years.
The Volt will face similar challenges, said K.G. Duleep, managing director of Arlington, Virginia-based Energy & Environmental Analysis Inc.
``All the power has to be delivered by the battery, and that's a lot of battery,'' said Duleep, who advises automakers on engine technology. ``This will not be cheap.''
Beth Lowery, GM's vice president for environmental issues, declined to say what the Volt will cost. She said it will be ``affordable.''
Gasoline-electric hybrids such as Prius and GM's Chevrolet Tahoe sport-utility vehicle use electric motors only at start-up and lower speeds, and rely on engine power and friction from braking to recharge the battery.
The Volt is charged at a household outlet and uses an onboard engine to generate electricity when the battery runs down. The engine, powered by gasoline, diesel or hydrogen fuel cells, only recharges the battery and doesn't drive the wheels. Its full range would be about 640 miles on a tank of gasoline.
Electric-vehicle fans are frustrated with Toyota for not having a plug-in Prius by now and with GM for killing the EV-1, said Chris Paine, whose 2006 documentary, ``Who Killed the Electric Car?'' criticized GM's decision.
``The market is going to sort out which one is best,'' Paine said in an interview from San Francisco. ``GM is taking a bigger risk, and I applaud them for that.''
BUSINESS 2.0 GREEN WOMBAT
Federal Energy Official: Plug the Prius into the Grid http://blogs.business2.com/greenwombat/2007/08/federal-energy-.html August 06, 2007
Thanks to Felix Kramer of the California Cars Initiative for tipping off Green Wombat to an enlightening exchange between a Toyota executive and a U.S. energy commissioner on the automaker's blog. The topic: plugging a plug-in electric hybrid (PHEV) version of the Prius into the power grid to supply electricity when demand peaks. Toyota (TM) corporate communications exec Irv Miller wrote a post on July 26 about the company's move to supply plug-in versions of the Prius to the University of California, Berkeley, and UC Irvine for testing. In response, Jon Wellinghoff, a commissioner at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, posted a query on Toyota's Open Road blog about the car's vehicle-to-grid capability, or V2G in green car geek talk, which would allow owners to be compensated for generating electricity. "Is Toyota planning on incorporating this 'cashback' hybrid technology into the cars they produce for testing?" asked Wellinghoff. "Studies have demonstrated that PHEV with vehicle-to-grid capability can realize annual payments from electric grid operators of between $1,000 to $3,000. These cashback payments could completely offset the high cost of this technology. What is Toyota doing in this regard?"
In a lengthy reply posted less than a day later - warp speed for a multinational corporation dealing with a hot-button topic - Miller said Toyota's priority is to produce production-ready PHEVs rather than build mini power plants. "Our expertise is in building motor vehicles. It's not in power generation," wrote Miller. "That's something that we would prefer to leave to those best equipped to do it." Nevertheless, he went on to discuss the challenges of V2G. Among them:
- Battery performance.
- Coordinating thousands of PHEVs to supply power to the grid.
- Building and financing the V2G infrastructure.
- Consumer's willingness to accept lower fuel efficiency by giving up battery power to the grid.
(One challenge not mentioned but something that Tesla Motors CEO Martin Eberhard has raised with Green Wombat is the impact of V2G on PHEV or electric car battery life.)
"The automobile business is changing and will, we feel sure, require strategies, partnerships and alliances we might not even have thought of yet. We don't even know, for sure, if PHEVs will come to market in the way in which we think they will," concluded Miller. "So while the potential for V2G is another intriguing aspect of hybrid technology, we must not become sidetracked so that we lose sight of the immediate goal. That goal is to produce an affordable, reliable PHEV that can be sold in large quantities, that can be serviced at any dealership, and that will meet the needs of the American motorist."
For CalCars's Kramer, whose organization promotes plug-in hybrids, Toyota's willingness to even publicly discuss vehicle-to-grid was more important than Miller's laundry list of obstacles to V2G. "The company's reservations are less significant than the fact that it is paying very serious attention to the subject," Kramer told Green Wombat in an email. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area you might spot the PHEV enthusiast tooling around in his converted 100-miles-to-the-gallon plug-in Prius, as Green Wombat did just the other weekend out at Point Reyes National Seashore.
Green Wombat is also fascinated by how a high-level U.S. government energy official and a corporate executive are having a direct, and apparently minimally mediated, open discussion via blog on a matter of public policy. Toyota's willingness to talk no doubt owes in part to the pressure exerted by groups like CalCars and the interest of utilities like PG&E (PCG) and Southern California Edison (EIX) in V2G. Google (GOOG) also has focused attention on the issue by installing a vehicle-to-grid charging stations at its corporate headquarters in Mountain View. Now the question is, will Honda (HMC), General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) join the discussion?