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RUMOR: Industry newsletter reports Toyota may build PHEVs

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  • Felix Kramer
    We re working to get a response from Toyota (and PG&E) to other journalists. If the story turns out to be confirmed, it s a huge step toward what we ve been
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2005
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      We're working to get a response from Toyota (and PG&E) to other
      journalists. If the story turns out to be confirmed, it's a huge step
      toward what we've been working and hoping for. (It's encouraging to see the
      author twice describing as "brilliant" the strategies involved.)

      We've always said Toyota could do modify their hybrids easily, but that
      they might not be first. This can then lead to other car-makers jumping in
      to the race.

      This is a subscription-only publication, available at
      http://www.iwpnews.com -- right now you can sign up for a free one-month
      subscription.
      Tthey've given us permission to send out the full story:

      "Inside Fuels and Vehicles"
      by Editor-In-Chief Peter Rohde

      Toyota Mulls Dramatic Reversal, May Be Developing Plug-In Hybrids

      After years of emphasizing its hybrid vehicles do not have to be plugged
      in, Toyota appears to be on the verge of a dramatic reversal and may be
      developing plug-in hybrids, auto industry sources tell Inside Fuels and
      Vehicles. But they also say the auto giant is still leery of the
      limitations battery technology places on the endeavor.

      Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles are enjoying new life as the poster child
      of security conscious neo-conservatives, because of their ability to
      substantially reduce oil demand. Plug-in hybrids have also been embraced by
      environmental activists, because of the technology's ability to drastically
      reduce harmful tailpipe and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly if the
      vehicle is recharged with electric power from renewable sources. Currently,
      only German automaker DaimlerChrysler is actively developing the technology.

      A recent Toyota presentation at the Tokyo auto show on hybrid vehicles
      extolling the environmental and practical virtues of plug-in hybrids seems
      to provide the intellectual underpinnings of the decision. The
      presentation, obtained by Inside Fuels and Vehicles, concludes that based
      on five criteria: 1. well-to-wheels carbon dioxide emissions; 2. emissions
      of criteria pollutants; 3. refueling infrastructure; 4. driving range; and
      5. fuel diversity. Under these criteria, plug-in hybrids would perform as
      well as or better than other motor vehicle technology -- including regular
      battery-electric hybrids, all-electric vehicles and even fuel cell vehicles
      (if the hydrogen is obtained from natural gas).

      Ever since Toyota released its first hybrid vehicle, the Prius, it has
      sought to distance itself from its trying experience with electric vehicles
      (EVs). They had to be plugged in to recharge the batteries, which could
      take hours, and outside-of-the-home charging stations were often hard to
      find. The hybrid uses the internal combustion engine and regenerative
      braking to recharge the battery pack. In its ads for the Prius and its
      other hybrids, Toyota emphasizes that they do not need to be plugged in.

      Some industry experts question whether or not today's battery technology is
      adequate. The battery packs in hybrids on the road today operate under a
      very narrow charge/discharge range. They are never allowed to drain down
      very far. For plug-in technology to make sense, the charge/discharge range
      would have to be much wider, shortening battery life.

      Technology challenges notwithstanding, observers, and even industry
      competitors, see the plug-in hybrid reversal in strategy as a brilliant
      move on several levels. On the societal level, it appeases environmental
      activists on one side and neo-conservatives on the other. From a business
      point of view, it puts domestic automakers and others without hybrids on
      the road further behind.

      By developing plug-in hybrid technology Toyota, already challenging General
      Motors to be the world's largest automaker and the acknowledged leader in
      hybrid vehicle technology, challenges others in the industry on a whole new
      level. GM and DaimlerChrysler, who are jointly developing hybrids along
      with BMW, are at least two generations of hybrid technology behind, though
      both companies have adopted it in transit buses.

      However, as one competitor said almost with relief, Toyota's plug-in hybrid
      initiative would likely deflect government away from another technological
      mandate, avoiding what they see as the California zero emissions mandate
      fiasco.

      Plug-in hybrids are a modified version of a traditional hybrid and
      battery-electric vehicle. Larger battery packs allow for the motorist to
      plug the vehicle in to recharge it. The vehicle presumably would also have
      the ability to drive in all-electric mode at the will of the driver, unlike
      today's hybrids sold in the U.S. -- in Japan a button allows Prius drivers
      to operate in all-electric mode for short distances, less than a mile.

      Plug-ins have several advantages, which are why they are touted by neocons
      and environmental activists alike. They can significantly reduce oil
      consumption since much of the power would be from battery packs recharged
      from the electrical grid, which is almost entirely independent of oil.
      Running on electric power means no harmful tailpipe emissions and no
      greenhouse gas emissions.

      Ancillary benefits include the ability of the vehicles to serve as backup
      power for the grid. The power from one vehicle could run several homes.
      Owners could actually sell the power back to their utility during peak
      demand to help pay for off peak electricity used to charge the car's batteries.

      Auto industry sources say Toyota will follow a unique strategy in
      developing plug-ins. Informed sources say responsibility for the battery
      component would be born by California utility Pacific Gas and Electric. The
      sources also see this as a brilliant strategy. As one pointed out,
      automakers don't produce gasoline, so a utility taking responsibility for
      the batteries isn't too far a stretch.

      Significant issues, including environmental ones, and barriers to success
      still remain. If the power used to recharge the batteries comes from coal
      or first generation natural gas-fired plants there is some question if the
      greenhouse gas and criteria emissions profile would still be better than
      for other vehicle technologies. The biggest technical barrier experts say
      is battery life. Another concern is the proclivity of what is currently the
      most promising battery technology, lithium ion, to overheat.



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      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      http://www.calcars.org
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/calcars-news
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/priusplus
      http://www.hybridcars.com/blogs/power
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