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Has Buzz Overstated News of Toyota's PHEV Production Plans?
Jun 13, 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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HAS TOYOTA COMMITTED TO MASS PRODUCTION PHEVS? Many auto industry observers think Toyota will stay in the race to be first with PHEVs, or will follow closely on GM. However, it's important to distinguish between official statements, speculation and wishful thinking! That's what we're trying to do.

Last we'd heard, Toyota plans to deliver up to 400 plug-in hybrid cars (not necessarily Priuses) to fleets for evaluation sometime in 2010. We expect these vehicles, not necessarily Priuses, will be have better specs than the few Priuses Toyota has modified by adding a second nickel-metal hydride battery to achieve under 10 miles of all-electric range. Toyota has repeatedly said it's not ready to commit to mass production. (See­carmakers.html which will be updated as soon as we can.) But now we're seeing bloggers, second-hand reports and even some newspaper headlines that conclude that the company's position has changed and that it plans to mass produce a PHEV for consumers in 2011. At the Google-Brookings conference, some people were talking about how this new development would affect other automakers. So as soon as we had the time, we made checking out the news a first priority. We don't think it's true -- but we may have missed something, and we welcome any solid information that expands on what we cite below.

BATTERY EXPANSION: Some confusion may stem from the company's statement about mass-producing batteries. On June 5, Toyota's Irv Miller, Group Vice President, Corporate Communications, in the company's Open Road Blog­2008/­06/­irvs-sheet-ampi.html in a posting called "Amping Up Battery Production," explained that battery capacity was becoming a supply issue for the company's hybrids. He confirmed that the Toyota-Matsushita joint venture Panasonic Energy EV, will spend $192 million to expand production of nickel-metal hydride batteries -- and lithium-ion batteries for PHEVs for fleet users in 2010. He concluded his posting provocatively: "The sooner we're measuring our energy use in amps instead of gallons, the better off we'll all be."

WHAT TOYOTA'S PRESIDENT SAID: On June 11, Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe unveiled a new "Low Carbon Action Plan" at the Toyota Environmental Forum in Tokyo. Based on what he said there, But after tracking back many of these reports, we will haven't seen any journalists who were there say more than "a plug-in hybrid vehicle to be released in 2010" (Wall Street journal­article/­SB121315963078263753.html ). At the Google/Brookings conference, Toyota's Bill Reinert knew of no major announcement.

THE AUTHORITATIVE SOURCE: The company's press release at­en/­news/­08/­0611.html confirms media reports that the joint venture is working on far better batteries and that next year's Prius (US third-generation, Japan fourth-generation) will still have nickel-metal hybrid batteries, and it includes PHEVs but says nothing beyond previous company statements:

Electricity (Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles/Electric Vehicles) Verification tests are currently being conducted in Japan, the United States and Europe, as plug-in hybrid vehicles--which can be used as electric vehicles for short trips and as conventional hybrid vehicles for traveling longer distances--represent the most promising approach.

  • By 2010, TMC will introduce a plug-in hybrid vehicle equipped with a lithium-ion battery, geared toward fleet customers in Japan, United States and Europe.
  • TMC plans to accelerate development of small electric vehicles for mass production.
  • Battery R&D and Production TMC will establish in late June 2008 a battery research department to advance the development of an innovative next-generation battery that can outperform a lithium-ion battery. Panasonic EV Energy Co., Ltd., a joint venture TMC established with the Matsushita Group that is conducting joint research on batteries for use in automobiles, will commence limited production of lithium-ion batteries in 2009, moving into full-scale production in 2010.

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