2004 and 2006 Interviews with Dave Hermance
- 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
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
Allisonmostly 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 GMs test tracks in Lower
Michigan. Its between Lansing and Detroit, Flint
and Ann Arborin the middle of rolling hills in
rural Michigan. They have over 150 miles of test
track in there. Its 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 beboth
from a hardware standpoint, and from the
calculations that back them up and the science that backs that up.
BB: Ive heard you referred to informally as
Toyotas 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. Im
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 Toyotas hybrid
technology is a fellow in Japan by the name of
Dr. Yaegashi. Im kind of his stepson, if you
will. There have been other phrasings, but Im
the American face of Toyotas 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 dont speak much
Japanesea 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 togetherhe with prior
experience with Toyota Motor Corporation in
Japan, and me with prior GM experience. We worked
very closely together for three years. Hes
pretty well up the ladder in the development of
hybrid systems in Japan, so hes provided a great
deal of my education. He speaks excellent English.
BB: What do you think has been the secret to Dr. Yaegashis success?
Hermance: Hes 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. Hes 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 centuryand 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 Toyotas Arizona proving grounds. Prior to
that, I had gone to Japan and had spent some time
with Shinichi Abe, and gotten the background.
Toyotas 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 wasnt 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, Ive 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 its slightly bigger. So its
bigger, faster, and has better fuel economyall
at the same time. With conventional technology,
you just cant 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: Its 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
youd probably wind up doing it in a much lighter
vehicle. Right now the U.S. market will not
embrace it. Consumers wont go for fuel economy,
and they wont accept any compromise of todays
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 dont
give a damn about fuel economy," with some low
volume exceptions. Were still half the price of
Japan or Europe on gas price. Its 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: Im not so sure if its a difference in
will. Its a difference in the corporate analysis
of whats going to be profitable and whats going
to be good for the business. If a manufacturer
sees a business opportunity, theyll be there,
one way or another. Some of the manufacturers
arent going there yetbecause of the amount of
money theyd have to invest, and initial
evaluations that say, "Were 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 itll be
interesting to see if we made a bad
decisionwhich I dont think is the case, but
its possibleor 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, "Were not sure this is core, but we see the
need, so well 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, were 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. Thats 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 its 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 Im not
sure it is for the mainstream marketing folks.
Im convinced that global warming is real, and
that if were not principally responsible, were
at least contributing to that. Id like to leave
the planet a little better than I found it. Its
going to be hard work to do that. By the same
token, I recognize the business realities. Unless
theres a market force that requires itand right
now there isnt because right now the American
public, across the entire sampling, doesnt care
about fuel economy, even at two dollars a
gallonits 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 hasnt 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, andpurely a
guessthere 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-inwhere you use some grid electricity to
substitute for petroleumis 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
sourceoil. 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
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --