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Toyota is betting big on the hydrogen for the long term. Its first fuel cell vehicles (like the Toyota FCHV pictured here at the 2008 New York Auto Show) may debut in 2015. Meanwhile it is scorning electric plug-in offerings.

Toyota plans on continuing to use less efficient nickel-metal batteries in its future Prius vehicles. It believes lithium-based batteries are too expensive for the efficiency gains they offer.
From battery chemistry, to electric vehicle adoption, Toyota isn't going with the flow

If you used industry-wide levels of interest in lithium-ion battery technology and electric vehicles as a barometer, both of these fields are at record highs.  In the U.S., the former "Big Three" -- GM, Chrysler, and Ford -- all have electric vehicles planned for release, with the GM's 2011 Chevy Volt being perhaps the biggest attraction.  In Germany, Daimler and child company Mercedes-Benz have both concepts and planned market EVs.  And in Japan, Nissan is gearing up to debut the electric-only 2011 Leaf EV.  All of these companies' electric efforts are driven by lithium-ion batteries, and these batteries are going in their hybrids as well.

The world's most successful vendor of electric vehicle technology, albeit in the form of mild hybrids, Toyota is going against the current on both of these trends, though.  In a new Bloomberg report aired concurrent with the Frankfurt Auto Show, it is revealed that Toyota extensively tested lithium-ion batteries as a potential replacement for the nickel-metal hydride batteries in its Prius and other mild hybrids.

What it found was that while the batteries were extremely efficient and didn't raise serious reliability or safety concerns, they were overly expensive for the gains they provided.  For that reason, Toyota reportedly concluded that the market wasn't ready for lithium and has decided to primarily continue with its nickel-based batteries for most of its hybrid cars.

Toyota also concluded that electric vehicles were too expensive to succeed in the current market.  Toyota Executive Vice President Takeshi Uchiyamada stated at a Frankfurt Auto Show press conference, "Electric vehicles of today are less costly than in 1990s, but if you compare them with the other vehicles out there they are still too expensive.  Unless there is a very big breakthrough in battery costs I don't think electric vehicles can take a large market share."

Toyota indicated that it will likely stay out of the electric vehicle market for close to a decade, the time it believes it will take for EVs to become profitable and affordable enough for the masses.

So is Toyota right?  It's hard to say.  Toyota's demonstration of business acumen over the last several years is hard to argue, given its ability to produce the first profitable mass-production hybrid, the Prius, which leads worldwide hybrid sales to date.  Furthermore, there are a handful of competitors, such as Germany's Audi, whose management are split on the viability of electric vehicles (Audi's North American president recently called buyers of the Chevy Volt EV "idiots"). 

On the other hand, the vast majority of the industry is shifting towards all electrics, and if Toyota counts on its competitors to lower production costs, it may find itself in a foreign hole when it finally decides to enter the market.  While some of the German automakers are pushing for clean diesel as a supplement or alternative to hybrids, Toyota is pushing hydrogen as a long term solution, a technology that faces significant production, transport, and storage obstacles -- all of which raise the price.  Toyota may release a fuel cell (hydrogen) car by 2015, according to recent reports. 

So for now Toyota is opting for one of the least expensive and most proven solutions (mild hybrids), while its mid-to-long term efforts focus on what is currently the most expensive and least proven solution of them all -- hydrogen.

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RE: I hope they do...
By EJ257 on 9/16/2009 10:25:13 AM , Rating: -1
They should make a vehicle which just takes water. The electrolysis unit sits in the car and converts your hydrogen for you on the fly. You pull into the filling station to take on water, simple as that.

RE: I hope they do...
By Entropy42 on 9/16/2009 10:32:11 AM , Rating: 5
Seriously? Please tell me this was sarcasm.

RE: I hope they do...
By Pneumothorax on 9/16/2009 12:36:34 PM , Rating: 3
Yeah, it just takes a little energy to break the O-H bonds lol.

RE: I hope they do...
By ClownPuncher on 9/16/09, Rating: 0
RE: I hope they do...
By ArcliteHawaii on 9/16/2009 8:30:20 PM , Rating: 2
Seriously, please tell me how this would not work. Electrolysis units are small. The unit could run while plugged in at night, refilling the fuel cell with hydrogen. Excess heat could be bled off using a small radiator. Currently the FCX, a first gen fuel cell vehicle, has a range of almost 300 miles per tank, which is better than any battery only vehicle. You could still refuel the cell directly with hydrogen at a filling station if you needed to drive further than that in a day.

RE: I hope they do...
By piroroadkill on 9/17/2009 6:26:24 AM , Rating: 2
If you planned to plug in your car at night, you would be absolutely retarded to use that energy to create hydrogen from water, when the efficiency is absolutely terrible in comparison to simply.. charging a battery

RE: I hope they do...
By ArcliteHawaii on 9/17/2009 8:46:46 PM , Rating: 2
You're right, it's not as energy efficient. Electrolysis has an efficiency of 50-70% according to Wikipedia. There's a lot of waste heat.

However, there are benefits to fuel cells that extend beyond that though. You're trading charging efficiency for range and weight. Fuel cells are relatively light compared to large battery packs. And 300 miles is the range of first gen fuel cell vehicles. I expect that range to increase further as fuel cells improve. Batteries can't touch that. And you still have the option of refueling a fuel cell in a few minutes, which you do not have with a battery pack.

RE: I hope they do...
By mattclary on 9/16/2009 4:16:53 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, your idea isn't THAT bad. But instead, you add water at home and plug it into a wall socket at night.

RE: I hope they do...
By JediJeb on 9/17/2009 3:24:29 PM , Rating: 2
There is work being done on using catalyst to do the water to hydrogen conversion but that tech will be some time off. Lithium, Sodium, Calcium and some other metals release H2 from water when they are mixed but then you need to get rid of the metal oxides that are left behind. Also these reactions produce a lot of heat. If a catalyst can be found that is not used up in a chemical reaction like the above metals then you might have a winner. Or a catalyst that greatly reduces the amount of electricity needed so that a small solar panel would provide enough hydrogen for powering a vehicle, would also be great.

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