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2004 and 2006 Interviews with Dave Hermance

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  • Felix Kramer
    A bit more to supplement what we ve already posted about Dave Hermance: an interview with HybridCars.com s Bradley Berman in 2004, when it was not yet clear
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2006
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      A bit more to supplement what we've already
      posted about Dave Hermance: an interview with
      HybridCars.com's Bradley Berman in 2004, when it
      was not yet clear how successful the Prius would
      be, gives insight into both the professional and the personal side of the man.

      We're all wondering about the impact Dave's
      absence will have on the timetable for PHEV
      development at Toyota. No one knows the answer to
      that question. In one of his last interviews,
      with Marianne Lavelle, as part of her report on
      PHEVs for US News & World Report (see
      <http://www.calcars.org/news-archive.html>, he
      presented his and the company's recent thinking.
      (One footnote to his comment about conversions:
      in a conversation with me and Ron Gremban, he
      confirmed that the Prius's current under 35-MPH
      limitation for electric-only mode could be
      significantly higher without requiring
      modifications to electronic or mechanical
      components -- though he gave no indication that
      Toyota had any plans to change that.)

      Dave Hermance, Toyota's Hybrid Guru
      David Hermance, Toyota's executive engineer for
      advanced technology vehicles, died Saturday, Nov.
      25, when the airplane he was piloting crashed
      into the Pacific Ocean. Hermance, 59, was
      Toyota's top American executive for
      alternative-fuel vehicles and emissions
      technologies in North America. He was also an
      avid pilot who enjoyed aerobatics competition.
      According to eyewitness and police reports,
      Hermance's plane was performing a series of loops
      in airspace over the ocean near San Pedro,
      Calif., reserved for aerobatic stunts. Witnesses
      said the engine revved hard during a descent but
      the plane did not pull up and hit the water.

      Hermance was widely regarded as Toyota's hybrid
      guru in North America. He was responsible for
      advanced technology vehicle communication for the
      North American market, and emission regulatory
      activities in California. Hermance joined Toyota
      in 1991; from 1985 to 1991 he served as
      Department Head for Durability Test Development
      at General Motors. He joined G.M. in 1965,
      serving in a variety of roles in the Vehicle
      Emissions Laboratory from 1971-1985. He earned a
      Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from
      the General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan.

      HybridCars.com editor Bradley Berman interviewed Hermance in 2004.

      BB: In almost 40 years in the auto industry, what
      roles have you played at GM and then at Toyota?
      Hermance: While I was in college, I did coop
      studies at Allison, which became Detroit Diesel
      Allison—mostly on the aerospace side of the
      house. Aerospace was in tough shape in ‘71, so I
      transferred to the Milford Proving Grounds. I
      worked at the Milford Proving Grounds from ‘71 to
      ‘91, about 15 years of it in the emissions
      business. I spent fi ve years in the department
      that designed durability tests based on customer use.

      BB: For those not familiar with Milford Proving Grounds, what is it?
      Hermance: The proving grounds are a 4,000-acre
      facility, essentially GM’s test tracks in Lower
      Michigan. It’s between Lansing and Detroit, Flint
      and Ann Arbor—in the middle of rolling hills in
      rural Michigan. They have over 150 miles of test
      track in there. It’s where all the central
      corporate testing is done for GM. Their
      certification emissions labs are there. Their
      safety test facility is there. All their road
      test activities are there. They also had a
      facility in Arizona, but Milford was bigger.

      BB: What did you learn during that time about emissions and durability?
      Hermance: I have a fairly long background from an
      emissions compliance and testing standpoint. I
      designed and evaluated a bunch of emission tests,
      resulting from rulemaking by the EPA, and to a
      lesser extent the California Air Resources Board.
      Being in Michigan, it was mostly about the
      federal government regulations. I can run any
      emission test that ever was or ever will be—both
      from a hardware standpoint, and from the
      calculations that back them up and the science that backs that up.

      BB: I’ve heard you referred to informally as
      Toyota’s hybrid czar. What is your current title and role?
      Hermance: My current title at Toyota is Executive
      Engineer for Environmental Engineering, so I
      still have an environmental bent. The PR folks
      have recently started calling me hybrid guru. I’m
      not sure quite what that means.

      BB: [Laughs] What do you think it means? What are they looking to you for?
      Hermance: I am the native English speaker who
      presents hybrid technologies so folks can better
      understand it. The father of Toyota’s hybrid
      technology is a fellow in Japan by the name of
      Dr. Yaegashi. I’m kind of his stepson, if you
      will. There have been other phrasings, but I’m
      the American face of Toyota’s hybrid technology.

      BB: How do you interact with Dr. Yaegashi? Do you
      speak Japanese or does he speak English?
      Hermance: He speaks some English, and a lot of
      his staff speaks English. I don’t speak much
      Japanese—a little bit. Most of the engineering
      data is in charts and graphs, and those translate
      fairly easily. One of his key staff members is a
      fellow by the name of Shinichi Abe. When I first
      joined Toyota in ‘91, he had just been sent to
      the U.S. on a rotation, so he and I were new kids
      in this organization together—he with prior
      experience with Toyota Motor Corporation in
      Japan, and me with prior GM experience. We worked
      very closely together for three years. He’s
      pretty well up the ladder in the development of
      hybrid systems in Japan, so he’s provided a great
      deal of my education. He speaks excellent English.

      BB: What do you think has been the secret to Dr. Yaegashi’s success?
      Hermance: He’s had years of emission-systems
      development prior to his hybrid exposure. He was
      one of the fathers of a bunch of different
      development programs at Toyota. He’s been doing
      advanced emissions work since the early ‘70s, and
      has done it well. He developed a lot of the
      systems that Toyota has used over time. He was
      given this challenge to do something new for the
      21st century—and so here we are.

      BB: What was your first involvement with hybrid cars at Toyota?
      Hermance: In the summer of ’97, we did a
      technology seminar for regulators and the press
      at Toyota’s Arizona proving grounds. Prior to
      that, I had gone to Japan and had spent some time
      with Shinichi Abe, and gotten the background.
      Toyota’s Japanese team brought prototype vehicles
      and a bunch of technicians to the Arizona proving
      ground. That was the first time I got to touch
      the car. I wasn’t directly involved in the
      creation or engineering of the first Prius.

      BB: Do you remember when you heard that it was
      even in the works, and what your reaction was?
      Hermance: It would have been very late ‘96, early
      ‘97. It was such a different concept. Initially,
      it was presented as a car that would provide this
      [very high] level of fuel economy. I said, yeah,
      sure, because in general, nobody knew how to do
      that with any conventional technology vehicle.
      Now, I’ve seen the growth of the technology
      through three iterations of the Prius. With each
      generation, it gets better fuel economy. It gets
      quicker, and now it’s slightly bigger. So it’s
      bigger, faster, and has better fuel economy—all
      at the same time. With conventional technology,
      you just can’t do all three competing things at the same time.

      BB: Could you ever envision a Toyota car running
      70, 80, or 90 miles per gallon? And if that was the goal, could it be achieved?
      Hermance: It’s unlikely that you can get
      thermodynamically to 80 or 90 miles to the gallon
      with gasoline in current vehicles. You might be
      able to do it with diesel and hybridization. But
      you’d probably wind up doing it in a much lighter
      vehicle. Right now the U.S. market will not
      embrace it. Consumers won’t go for fuel economy,
      and they won’t accept any compromise of today’s
      performance levels. In fact, they want more
      performance with each new model. In some markets
      outside the U.S., perhaps. Toyota is
      market-driven, in all the markets it sells in,
      and the U.S. market is clearly saying, "We don’t
      give a damn about fuel economy," with some low
      volume exceptions. We’re still half the price of
      Japan or Europe on gas price. It’s going to take
      much higher prices for a long time to drive real change in customer behavior.

      BB: Is there a difference between the Americans
      and the Japanese in the will to put hybrids out there?
      Hermance: I’m not so sure if it’s a difference in
      will. It’s a difference in the corporate analysis
      of what’s going to be profitable and what’s going
      to be good for the business. If a manufacturer
      sees a business opportunity, they’ll be there,
      one way or another. Some of the manufacturers
      aren’t going there yet—because of the amount of
      money they’d have to invest, and initial
      evaluations that say, "We’re not convinced yet
      that this is a great way to go." Some of us are.
      Honda, Toyota, and Ford are pretty well deep in
      the [hybrid] business now. And it’ll be
      interesting to see if we made a bad
      decision—which I don’t think is the case, but
      it’s possible—or whether the other guys are going
      to be playing catch-up big time. Or you can do it
      like Nissan did, and hedge your bet, where you
      say, "We’re not sure this is core, but we see the
      need, so we’ll buy the technology."

      BB: Which leads us to J.D. Power saying that
      hybrids will grow from the current half-percent
      of the new car market to 4 or 5 percent in the next few years. Do you agree?
      Hermance: Could go there. Could go more than
      that, depending on how many manufacturers offer
      product on how many different models. That will
      drive the demand. Right now, at 47,000 units,
      Prius is about 10% of the mid-size cars Toyota
      sells. If you add Camry and Prius, we’re close to
      500,000 units total. 10% of those are hybrids. If
      the Lexus RX and the Highlander come out, and we
      sell them at 10% of that category, then who
      knows? You could conceivably get to 10%
      penetration of the whole market, but only if
      every manufacturer offered hybrid as an option on
      every high-volume platform. That’s not going to
      happen in four years. It could happen in 10. It
      could be that, if demand is really big, and
      everybody realizes that it’s big, you could blow
      through 10% quickly on a particular model or a segment.

      BB: Is your involvement with the Prius an environmental mission?
      Hermance: It is for me, personally, but I’m not
      sure it is for the mainstream marketing folks.
      I’m convinced that global warming is real, and
      that if we’re not principally responsible, we’re
      at least contributing to that. I’d like to leave
      the planet a little better than I found it. It’s
      going to be hard work to do that. By the same
      token, I recognize the business realities. Unless
      there’s a market force that requires it—and right
      now there isn’t because right now the American
      public, across the entire sampling, doesn’t care
      about fuel economy, even at two dollars a
      gallon—it’s not on their radar for consideration
      when they purchase a new vehicle. Interestingly
      enough, it is on their radar after they buy the
      vehicle and start complaining about the fuel
      economy. It hasn’t made it into the purchase
      decision consideration yet. It may, at some point
      in time, and Toyota will be well positioned when
      it does. You have to go in small steps until the
      market forces are ready to move you in that direction.

      Q&A With the 'American Father of the Prius'
      By Marianne Lavelle
      Posted 11/30/06 U.S. News & World Report - Washington,DC,USA

      Toyota executive engineer David Hermance, known
      as the "American father of the Prius," died in
      his single-engine experimental plane on November
      25 when it crashed into the Pacific Ocean.
      Hermance, 59, gave what would turn out to be one
      of his last in-depth media interviews to U.S.News
      & World Report on September 26. Excerpts appear
      below. Toyota North America Motors President Jim
      Press had recently announced that the company was
      researching the so-called plug-in hybrid electric
      vehicle. Advocates say mileage can be boosted to
      100 mpg with the addition of a larger battery
      that can be recharged on the electric grid
      through an ordinary household outlet.

      U.S. News asked Hermance what Toyota's timeline
      was on development of a plug-in hybrid.

      We are at the beginning of [research and
      development], and there was no announcement of a
      timeline. It's way too early to figure out when
      we might get to be a production vehicle. But
      we've now moved from paper to some more-serious
      research. Eventually, there will be vehicles to
      demonstrate the technology, and–purely a
      guess–there will be a demonstration vehicle
      before there is ever a production vehicle. And
      with most research, there's always the risk it won't ever go to production.

      How great a risk is that?

      I think it's got a pretty good chance [of making
      it to production]. The concept of the
      plug-in–where you use some grid electricity to
      substitute for petroleum–is a good one from an
      energy diversity standpoint. Having more fuels in
      the transportation fuel mix is a really good deal
      for us. It makes us less dependent on a single
      source–oil. So plug-ins, from that standpoint,
      are extraordinarily appealing. The downside is the battery is not ready yet.

      We're working on batteries. The [Department of
      Energy] is sponsoring work on batteries. The
      battery companies are working on batteries, and
      most of our competitors are working on batteries
      in some form or another. So it's generally
      regarded as inevitable that we will get a better
      battery. Nobody knows just when.

      What's the problem with the battery?

      Today's nickel metal hydride battery [the type
      used in all hybrids] is optimized for peak power
      rather than peak energy. Energy is how much money
      you've got in the bank. Power is the rate at
      which you spend the money. Energy in a
      conventional vehicle is stored in form of
      gasoline. In a battery, right now, you can store
      a lot less. And the cost of a battery, per unit
      of energy stored, is a lot more expensive.

      If you've got a cellphone or laptop computer, the
      only source of energy is the battery, and that
      battery is optimized to store as much energy as
      possible in as little space as possible. In
      consumer electronics, they've made the transition
      to lithium ion, because it stores more energy. We
      haven't made that transition in cars yet. Nickel
      worked really well for us. It was better
      understood at the time we started. The reason all
      cars will transition to lithium ion is cost.
      Nickel is a commodity that has gone up in price
      over the last five years, and we can't take the
      cost increase if we stay with nickel.

      What is Toyota's view of the advocates who are
      taking their Priuses right now and replacing the
      factory systems with plug-in batteries they say
      already work and are getting 100 mpg?

      To the extent they're doing it to their own
      vehicle, and as long as they understand the
      safety issues and that we are not likely to honor
      the warranty, it's not a problem. Plug-in
      advocates do all kinds of interesting things,
      some of which look scary. They are very
      well-intentioned folks. They don't have to sell vehicles on a long-term basis.

      I guarantee the battery's not ready. We won't
      bring a product to market unless it meets our
      internal durability and reliability tests. We
      won't bring a product to market that isn't ready.

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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