PLUG OK license plate
Toyota Continues Backslide: Even Lithium May Not Be Enough
Nov 5, 2007 (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.
Want more? Become a subscriber to CalCars-News:

Toyota's new full-page newspaper ads show an open road, green fields, an enormous blue sky, and the headline "WHY NOT?" followed by the poetic:

"Two words that are filled with possibilities They can turn a challenge into an opportunity An obstacle into an inspiration.

It's a question we ask ourselves at Toyota every day. Because we're continuously looking for new ways to improve what we do. By asking tough questions.

Can we make a car that has zero emissions? Can we improve the economy of a community? Can we enrich the lives of people around us?

Why not?"

And a link to­whynot -- where the repositioning campaign is found.

Meanwhile, in the race to bring PHEVs to market, Toyota is disagreeing with elected officials, climate crisis and other environmental advocates and companies that suggest we start today with good enough solutions as the best way to move forward. Here are reports on how three journalists have responded to all the new obstacles Toyota has raised to PHEVs.

Only a few months ago, Toyota was sounding positive about PHEVs (see­carmakers.html ). Now the company is turning almost 180 degrees (ironic, since the PHEV's reverse gear is all-electric!) Its responses increasingly communicate "not now...not possible...give us credit for building the us." (Its new TV ad, visible at the whynot URL shows a Prius effectively built of biodegradable twigs.) And it's also saying, "by the way, forget about our support of auto industry efforts to defeat higher CAFE standards and California's law requiring lower-CO2 cars; ignore our immensely profitable Tundra truck and don't look too carefully at our Lexus muscle hybrids" (the latest of which, the 2MPG-better 600h at $100K, was labelled aggressively as a greenwasher in the Wall Street Journal­article/­SB119395287391379578.html )

The campaign for PHEVs has clearly affected the company. It has responded by putting a primitive PHEVs on the road -- with one-half to one-third the range of after-market conversions. (Though even these dozen prototypes, by confirming that Toyota can switch EV-only mode up to 62MPH, get people even more excited about PHEVs and more convinced Toyota could build better PHEVs anytime it wants to.) Its new strategy is to criticize the shortcomings of its own car and emphasize the impediments to building anything better.

For some time,Toyota has publicly and privately asked the California Air Resources Board to change its requirement for more hydrogen fuel cells cars. Its senior executives say the company is focusing its development resources on hybrids. Surprisingly, at the same time, Toyota has now begun to publicly link PHEVs with the remnant of its fuel cell program. This gives journalists the message that both are equally worthy of attention -- and both are far from practical today. In its Japanese demonstrations of the PHEV Prius, it put both cars on the same track for test drives.

Some journalists caught on to the game, like Martin Zimmerman from the LA Times, who after saying that PHEVs "may have a lot to say about how we get around in the future," looked at fuel cell cars and saw "a sticker price of about $1 million. Maybe, as some critics like to say, hydrogen is the fuel of the future and always will be. But for a few brief minutes in the shadow of Fujisan, the future felt awfully close at hand."­business/­la-fi-hybrid24oct24,1,7206635.story

Dennis Normile from The New York Times reflected many of Toyota's perspective in two articles on the Japanese demos. In "Fuel Cell Hurdle: Only the Price Tag," (which appeared online only Nov. 4 at­2007/­11/­04/­automobiles/­04CELL.html ), he eagerly reports,

"We've got the systems engineering solved," Mr. Hirose, general manager for fuel cell system engineering and development at Toyota, said. "This is close to a commercial vehicle." A brief test drive of this hydrogen-fueled Highlander at the company's Higashi-Fuji Technical Center near Mount Fuji gave the impression that the goal of delivering a showroom-ready model is indeed tantalizingly close.

The reporter loves the smooth, quiet (all-electric!) ride, then concludes: Some challenges remain. Taiyo Kawai, also a Toyota fuel cell engineer, explained that fuel cell durability and power density needed to be improved. But the toughest nut to crack will be cost of a fuel cell vehicle, which they say must drop a hundredfold to be commercially viable. Mr. Kawai said that could be achieved by improving production efficiency and reducing the use of expensive materials like platinum. Then there is the issue of building a hydrogen supply infrastructure, something Mr. Hirose says will require "society-level decisions." Toyota officials are confident that mass commercialization of fuel cell vehicles will occur sometime after 2030.

OUR COMMENT: Why would Toyota bother to show a car it won't mass-produce for 20 years?

In the other report, in the Sunday print edition worldwide and at­2007/­11/­04/­automobiles/­04PLUG.html , "As Hybrids Evolve, Gains Grow Elusive,' the same Dennis Normile swallows the idea that benefits are uncertain and cites a list of obstacles without evaluating them. We intersperse our comments:

And even when new twists in technology do arrive -- developments that include plug-in hybrids, which can be recharged on household current to give them more driving distance on batteries alone -- it may be impossible to give buyers a measure of how much the advances help because there is no test to measure their mileage.

A recent drive in Japan of a prototype Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid demonstrated both Toyota's progress in developing vehicles that make more use of their electric drive systems and the challenges in bringing them to market.

By putting its considerable engineering and marketing muscle into making the Prius the best-selling hybrid car, Toyota established a reputation as a green leader among automakers. But that image has been questioned by environmental groups that assail Toyota's push into big trucks, its stance on proposed United States fuel economy standards and its participation in a lawsuit challenging California's right to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

Reasserting its position as the biggest seller of hybrids just before the Tokyo auto show opened last month, Toyota let journalists drive what is likely to be its next step toward what it calls sustainable mobility -- a plug-in hybrid based on the current Prius that would be more miserly with fuel and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But don't hurry down to your nearest Toyota dealer. Before the car reaches showrooms it faces some tough road tests, and even when it does arrive, it probably will not replace existing hybrid designs entirely. [snip] Toyota said that better batteries are needed to extend the car's electric-mode range -- and even the most promising prospects may not be good enough.

"Some of our engineers think we must go beyond lithium-ion," said Katsuaki Watanabe, president of the Toyota Motor Corporation, referring to what is now the leading battery technology for electric vehicles.

OUR COMMENT: Anyone tracking developments among battery companies and other automakers will be astounded by this upping the ante. The source is Pres. Watanabe, but he keeps some space between "some engineers" and his own views. Is Toyota really now promoting the idea that no type of lithium-based battery is practical? Or perhaps the journalist misunderstood and Pres. Watanabe means Toyota engineers want the company to "go beyond" the lithium-cobalt batteries available to it through its Panasonic joint venture, which have far more significant safety issues than nanophosphate lithium and other batteries already on the market in small quantities.

The report continues: Toyota and the Environmental Protection Agency are mulling over how to describe the advantages of adding plug-in capability to a hybrid. The current test, which gives the Prius an E.P.A. estimated mileage of 55 m.p.g. for combined city and highway driving, does not work. Toyota estimates that for a daily commute of 15.5 miles, running costs of this prototype will be about 8 percent lower than the current Prius if the battery is charged during the day, and 41 percent cheaper if charged at off-peak rates where time-of-day electricity pricing is available.

OUR COMMENT: Toyota is saying electrical driving costs will be negligible unless off-peak rates are available. This sends the message: "(like fuel cells) the infrastructure isn't ready." (Watch how many states introduce time-of-use pricing in the coming years.) And it's correctly saying that regulators will have to figure out baseline measures of emissions and cost savings for cars that assuredly have major benefits. (A great challenge to face, which government agencies and the Society of Automotive Engineers are happily working on!)

By the way, Toyota's 8% number doesn't add up. For Toyota's 15.5 miles round-trip, half could be all-electric with Toyota's small battery range. Let's assume cheap (these days) $2.50 gasoline, 260 Watt-hours for electric miles on the Prius and US average electrical price of 9.67 cents Standard 55MPG Prius, 7.75 miles = 0.14 gallons or $0.35 All-electric: 7.75 miles =2 kiloWatts = $0.20 Electric miles 42% cheaper at daytime rates; entire 15.5 mile range 21% cheaper.

The company did the journalist and his readers a disservice by not reminding him to use the new EPA combined figure for the Prius: 46MPG Prius, 7.75 miles = 0.17 gallons or $0.42 of $2.50/gallon gasoline All-electric: 7.75 miles =2 kiloWatts = $0.20 Electric miles 52% cheaper at daytime rates; entire 15.5 mile range 26% cheaper.

The report continues: Cuts in carbon dioxide emissions depend on the source of the electrical power. Toyota calculates that in the United States, with its dependence on coal, the plug-in hybrid would cut carbon emissions 4 percent compared with a conventional Prius; in France, where more nuclear plants generate electricity, the reduction would be 34 percent.

OUR COMMENT: We urge Toyota to release its assumptions, which are significantly lower than those of many reports, including the widely-recognized recent study by EPRI-NRDC study (see CalCars-News). And it's curious for a company that asks "why not," to be entirely backward-looking, focusing on yesterday's battery technology and on the emissions profile of a power grid that was built when no one was thinking about CO2 and will inevitably get cleaner.

The article concludes: All those calculations are based on nickel-metal hydride batteries; going to lithium-ion batteries with greater power storage capacity would increase the benefits. Toyota, like other companies, is working on that technology but is cautious about saying when it will be ready. The goal is to make the combined battery pack and charger about the size and weight of the current Prius battery, but twice as powerful.

Among other benefits, this would mean Toyota could introduce a plug-in Prius without a major model change. But, Mr. Asakura said, the lithium-ion batteries have a long way to go to achieve that performance with acceptable safety, reliability and longevity.


A most important question these days is what will fuel the hundreds of millions of new cars that are built in developing nations. (See columnist Thomas Friedman's "No, No, Don't Follow Us" about Tata's planned $2,500 car for India­2007/­11/­04/­opinion/­04friedman.html .) Friedman, a supporter of PHEVs, here rightly focuses on the need to vastly expand mass transit rather than four-wheeled vehicles.

What does Toyota say? In the Reuters report that follows in its entirety, managing officer Tatehito Ueda says "China is not the place for electric cars" because they will run on coal. He doesn't take the next step in that reasoning to look at the future. As the world's car fleet increases rapidly and as global petroleum supplies are increasingly stretched, China and India will turn to gasoline made from their domestic coal ("coal-to-liquid)." CTL is among the technologies lumped together as "clean coal" by its advocates. It's called "perpetual pollution" by the Montana Environmental Information Center. CTL will be 2-3x higher in CO2 than coal used for electric cars. Toyota presumes that nothing changes -- that China doesn't begin to shift away from coal toward renewables (which it must if the world is to survive), while assuming that large scale carbon capture and sequestration is unavailable (which we agree is a realistic assumption).

In this Reuters article we're surprised to find additional impediments:

  • Some people won't have plugs, so Toyota will have to build two kinds of hybrids--those that plug in and those that don't (what a burden!)
  • The journalist has been told PHEVs are "based on fuel cell technology" -- from which he concludes that it shares the fuel cell's "always 20 years away" status.
  • Plug-in owners might get tired of plugging in. They would forget about the cost and environmental benefits and someday feel too overburdened or impatient to spend 10 seconds on the way out of the garage at night connecting the car to an extension cord and unplugging it in the morning. Clearly this calls for years of study. (As for cellphone owners...)
  • Toyota teases us with a great lightweight PHEV: the 1/X. But it's only a concept....sending the message Toyota would rather wait not just for perfect batteries but for fully optimized carbon-fiber vehicles.

China is no place for electric cars:Toyota Mon Oct 22, 2007 4:23am EDT­article/­marketsNews/­idUKT11967020071022?rpc=44

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese carmaker Toyota is working to improve its hybrid cars and develop electric cars for the future, but an official said on Monday that these vehicles would not help reduce CO2 emissions in China.

"In France, 80 percent of electricity is produced by nuclear stations so if electric cars replace fossil fuel cars then you have a clear reduction in the emission of CO2," said at Toyota Motor Corp.

"But in China they make electricity by burning coal, so China is not the place for electric cars," he told the Nikkei International Automotive Conference in Tokyo.

Toyota has introduced a so-called 'plug-in' hybrid vehicle -- in which the electric part of the engine can be charged up from the electricity network -- in France in partnership with EDF and will introduce this elsewhere as well.

The vehicle is based on its Fuel Cell stack technology, but Ueda said a lot of issues needed to be resolved to make this a mass technology, both in infrastructure and in vehicles.

In the meantime, improved fuel economy through reduced running resistance, or friction, and an improved power train can cut emissions. Software can help make mechanical actions more precise and reduce fuel consumption, he said.

At the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota introduced another possible approach in its 1/X concept vehicle. Rather than increase battery capacity, the 1/X relies on cutting vehicle weight with a carbon-fiber-reinforced body that weighs 925 pounds, or about one-third that of the current Prius. It is also a plug-in hybrid that can run on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol.

The problems of changing to a plug-in fleet are not all technical. Anyone without regular access to an outlet -- that would include most apartment dwellers -- would be better off with a conventional Prius rather than a plug-in because the plug-in's larger and heavier battery pack would cut mileage. Automakers would need to make both plug-in and no-plug models.

Toyota is also concerned that plug-in owners might tire of connecting their cars every day. Some answers on consumer expectations and daily performance should come out of evaluations of the prototypes to be conducted at the Irvine and Berkeley campuses of the University of California that will begin later this month.

The uncertainties mean Toyota officials simply won't be pinned down as to when a plug-in hybrid will hit the market. When pressed, all Mr. Asakura would say is: "As quickly as possible."

Copyright 2003-07 California Cars Initiative, an activity of the International Humanities Center | Site Map