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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: just pr
By drmo on 9/16/2009 3:48:24 PM , Rating: 2
I think the main problem with EVs is charge time. Okay for short trips, but bad for long ones. If you could charge them in 5 minutes, then that would change everything.


RE: just pr
By andrinoaa on 9/16/2009 5:41:50 PM , Rating: 1
I think you are missing the point by a country mile. No one says they are perfect for every situation, just like a honda FIT, it has its place. Sure, 5min charge time is desirable but isn't quite possible now but that doesn't mean it isn't useable. 5min charge time isn't the main problem with people who want this type of vehicle. Other factors are more of an issue. Cost, availability and infrustructure are way way more of a problem.


RE: just pr
By drmo on 9/16/2009 10:28:32 PM , Rating: 2
No, I get the point. I don't think I even hinted that EVs don't have a place; it is just limited. Just like hydrogen fuel cells will be limited. But the fuel cell problem can be solved by increasing the infrastructure. The EV problem can also be solved by increasing the infrastructure for charging, if the charge time can be reduced.

But I think the point Toyota was making is that fuel cells are cheaper, and you can use them for all of your needs; the Honda FCX Clarity already gets a 240 mile range, so the technology for the cars is pretty much there. I think that unless the oil companies decide they are going to support the technology by installing hydrogen fueling stations, the hydrogen fuel cells will never really take off.

Also, Honda wants to sell a NG reformer for people's homes, that converts NG to hydrogen, which can be used to power the home and fill the car, at approximately 50% of the annual energy costs of being on the grid and using gas. The reformer would cost around $4,000, hopefully. That could pay for itself in 3 years, based on energy savings (if NG remains cheap).


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