Why Won’t Toyota Electrify Your Ride?

Electric cars — By on August 25, 2009 at 6:54 am
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Why Won't Toyota Electrify Your Ride?

The Toyota Prius has been the poster child for “green cars,” for years.  But soon, it could be the poor stepchild in a new family of electric cars being released by most other auto manufacturers.  Why won’t Toyota electrify your ride?  What is preventing the car company from plugging into the new push for electric vehicles (EVs)?

News these days is literally crackling with electric excitement over new EVs, including GM’s Chevy Volt (over 230 miles per gallon), the Nissan Leaf (coming out next year), and Mitsubishi Motors’ iMiEV (available for lease now).  These cars are 100% electric – not a hybrid.  They do not run on any gasoline.

Recent headlines declare: U.S. Buyers Want Electric Cars!

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The Chevy Volt is a new EV

Meanwhile, Toyota is not planning on introducing an EV until 2012 – 3 years from now.  Instead, the automaker will introduce a scant number of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles this year, holding back on a 100% electric ride for now.  Those who want a Toyota electric vehicle will just have to wait.

Many people are wondering what’s behind Toyota’s decisions.  After all, it took a big risk in the 1990s, introducing the Prius hybrid.  That risk paid off by firmly establishing it as a “green” car company.  Yet now, it could pass the baton to… GM?  Nissan?

From its standpoint, Toyota has concerns about EVs in general, which explain its cautiousness.  Its Executive Vice-President, Masatami Takimoto believes that there are still too many challenges facing electric vehicles – most specifically battery technology.  Plus, it would like to boost profits with traditional or hybrid cars before….um …. switching gears to 100% EVs.  Other concerns echo those of electric vehicle critics:

  • Not many buyers at first
  • Need to recharge batteries after modest distances (approx. 40 miles)
  • Expensive batteries
  • Not enough re-charging infrastructure (i.e. solar-powered park and ride facilities)

While these are certainly hurdles that the EV market faces, there have been significant strides with respect to all 4 in past months.  Grants are being awarded to municipalities to construct infrastructure, and technology improvements have drastically reduced re-charging times.  Heck, there are even battery changing stations that can give you a new, fully charged battery in about the same amount of time it takes to fill your gas tank.

So, why won’t Toyota electrify your ride?  Perhaps they will find it shocking when their cautious standpoint costs them the edge with respect to the green car market.

What do you think?  Wise decision, or risky gamble?

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10 Comments

  1. Robert K says:

    I think Toyota has it right. Realistically, the EV infrastructure in this country sucks. Sure, there are a few poster-child communities for charging/changing stations but the vast majority of our nation (like Bend) is still way behind the curve there.

    For most of the US market, car buyers are faced with the relatively long commutes associated with suburban communities and few/no options for recharging, other than to plug their vehicle into the outlet at their home. In short, EVs are not as convenient for owners, and are much more expensive to produce for manufacturers, which is going to make them a tough sell for at least the next three years, if not more.

    Toyota has already established themselves as the go-to company for fuel-efficient vehicles. They can afford to be conservative and see how things play out in the EV market for a few years. When they launch their first mass-market EV, you can be sure of two things: there will be a huge amount of buzz and publicity around it, and it will address a lot of the shortcomings that the other early market vehicles will have revealed (and suffer from).

    (P.S. Can you please add support for commenters to be notified when there are followup comments? Otherwise it’s really difficult to participate in any conversation that develops around these posts.)

  2. Robert K says:

    … And a couple interesting factoids I turned up while composing the above response:

    - Tesla vehicles have battery packs that contain 6,831 individual lithium batteries. Link also has some very interesting cost analysis of the battery packs. E.g. “Tesla is betting on the improvement in Li-ion technology (currently estimated to be 8% per year) to continue on and eventually get the battery replacement cost down to around $12K”.
    - In the 90′s, EVs were 2-3x more expensive to manufacture. ‘Not sure if that’s still the case.
    - EVs cost $.03/mile to charge (derived from the $.75/gallon @ 25mpg equivalent cost quoted in that article.) Has me wondering how I’d feel if I threw a party for my friends and they all decided to plug their cars in at my place for a quick “top off”. Could get expensive pretty quickly. :-)

  3. Ten Bears says:

    The Chevy Volt “230mpg” claim is fuzzy math.

    Environmental Economics crunched the numbers.

    For a trip of 50 miles, the Volt gets 250 miles per gallon. But, for a trip of 200 miles, the Volt gets 62.5 mpg. Based on the EPA decision to rate the Volt at 230 mpg, they are assuming a trip of 51.11 miles.

    Keep in mind, also, that most trips people make are short ones. DOT puts the mean trip length at 10 miles (USDOTmean trip length table), where Volt excels. Even on a 50-mile trip, Volt uses an estimated no gas. For the first fifty miles, it runs entirely on battery! GM has a long and tired history of doing innovative things on one hand, then screwing them up on the other. And with a price starting at $40,000 and needing a minimum temperature between 32°F to 50°F to run on the battery alone, just how practical is it and how many will sell?

  4. Philip says:

    You write: “These cars are 100% electric – not a hybrid.  They do not run on any gasoline.”

    Well, yes, Mitsu’s iMiEV & Nissan’s Leaf are.

    But the Chevy Volt is not a pure EV & it isn’t “100% electric”. It’s a plug-in hybrid with a gas tank.

    It works on exactly the same principles as the cars which Toyota will launch shortly & which you deride in this article.

    You’re bigging up GM & slagging Toyota for launching directly equivalent products.

    If you can’t get this basic distinction right, it’s hard to take anything else you publish seriously. This entire piece is pure rabble rousing sensationalist garbage. Lame.

  5. Philip says:

    On reflection, I’d like to be a bit clearer about what I’m so offended by here.

    In general, I’m not surprised if people get confused between EVs & plug-in hybrids, & I don’t think it matters much.

    I think that EVs & plug-in hybrids are both great, that they do different jobs, there’s a place for both, & that the confusion will dissipate once more hit the market.

    What I think makes your writing in this piece such a disgusting piece of sloppy journalism is this. -You- make the distinction between the two significant. The entire (&, I believe, fundamentally wrong-headed) pitch of your piece is, “EVs good, plug-in hybrids bad”.

    So when -you- fail to allocate the best known example of either to the correct category, you are insisting on the central, critical importance of a distinction -you- appear to know more or less nothing about.

  6. Stephanie says:

    Philip – I love to engage with people like you. Thank you for taking the time to comment. I am not offended at all by your vitriol.

    Anyway – there are some distinctions between EVs and PEHVs, correct. But the point of the piece is not to compare the two at all. Rather, its to discuss the fact that Toyota is dragging its feet with respect to manufacturing vehicles that do not run on gasoline, while other auto manufacturers are moving forward in that respect. Nothing is said about whether EVs or PEHV are good or bad. The readers can draw their own conclusion, and I’m sure they will.

    The central pitch of the piece is whether Toyota is staying in the green game, based on its manufacturing decisions. And I (and several other journalists who have published recent articles) are questioning that.

  7. Philip says:

    Hello Stephanie. Thank you for your generous response.

    You write, “the point of the piece is not to compare the two at all.”

    Uh-huh.

    “Rather, its to discuss the fact that Toyota is dragging its feet with respect to manufacturing vehicles that do not run on gasoline”.

    If you aren’t comparing the two at all, why should there be any significance -at all- to Toyota’s prioritisation of one (plug-in hybrids) over the other (EVs)?

    What is your basis for your apparent preference for not using gasoline at all, given the environmental implications (& scaleability or otherwise) of the alternatives?

    And where is your discussion of fuel cells or other technologies for non-gasoline powered vehicles, & Toyota’s involvement or otherwise with them?

    “The central pitch of the piece is whether Toyota is staying in the green game.”

    Toyota are stating a fairly arcane preference for environmental technology A over environmental technology B.

    You are, by your own account. avoiding any analysis of the actual merits of these two technologies, environmental or otherwise.

    You then conclude that Toyota’s preference for A over B calls into question whether they are “staying in the green game”.

    I think you’re making a whole series of assumptions and logical steps which you’re neither specifying explicitly nor justifying on the evidence.

    Perhaps we just have different perceptions of what the “game” is.

    Over in the US, I appreciate that driving a Prius is like a huge political statement. But the reality has never been all that.

    Toyota’s hybrid tech is interesting, sophisticated and a good step towards being able to build an effective non-gasoline powered hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, but here in Europe it’s never been at the cutting edge in terms of fuel efficiency. State of the art here is an all-aluminium Audi that carries 4 people and their luggage 100km on 3 litres of fuel (as measured by the official government test). But that’s another story.

  8. Okay, here’s the deal, plain and simple:

    Toyota has been a leader with the Prius, in the hybrid market, putting the US companies to shame.

    It is surprising to me that, following their success, they don’t want to continue to lead. There are millions of people who drive short distances and who would jump at the chance to drive a reliable ride that wasn’t sucking fossil fuels, and who don’t need an “infrastructure” .

    I think many companies are driven by the profit motive and not a need to be eco-pioneers. Toyota’s true colors are showing.

  9. epowercars says:

    The reason for them is the profits: Toyota would lost the profits from ICE cars if they mass produce the pure EV.

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