Toyota Reveals How Much Its Customers Want PHEVs; CalCars Suggests More Surveys & Disclosures
- This new information is too unusual to restrict to plug-in hybrid advocates and readers of CalCars-News. We especially encourage Toyota owners to forward this this information, electronically or printed out and mailed, to their elected representatives and local energy/automotive reporters and columnists.
We congratulate Toyota for being willing to put
itself in the hot seat by disclosing how strongly
its customers want PHEVs! And, inspired by the
company's transparency, we have some suggestions
about other questions Toyota might ask its
customers and other information the company might disclose.
Toyota's Winter 2007 Hybrid Synergy View Newsletter
features a response to the previous newsletter's question:
"In the future, what direction would you like to
see hybrids go?" The answer, plain and simple, in a pie chart:
6% Higher power output [so-called "muscle" hybrids]
18% Alternative fuel hybrid [presumably E85 or biodiesel]
37% Higher fuel economy [remember: that's what we
all liked first about hybrids]
And the winner:
39% Plug-in hybrids ['nuff said]
Toyota adds, in the same newsletter, a long, well-
reasoned, consumer-oriented explanation (slipping
in a good semi-technical description of the
difference between PHEVs with a substantial
all-electric range and "blended" hybrids). Read
the full text below, after our comments and suggestions to Toyota.
1. Note that while Toyota is clearly paying
attention to its customers, it is reserving to
itself the right to define what is "commercially feasible."
2. A few days ago, Bill Reinert, national manager
in the Advanced Technology Group at Toyota Motor
Sales, U.S.A., was quoted in the Sunday NYTimes
cover story on Toyota as confirming that the
company designed its hybrids for future
compatibility with PHEVs, saying "This company is
not stupid." (Key excerpts at
full text available at
<http://www.nytimes.com/magazine> even to
non-NYTimes subscribers.) Now Reinert gets the
job of delivering bad news to people who wish
their dealers could sell them PHEVs. The company
has set as a requirement that even the first
PHEVs it builds must be "commercially practical"
and eligible for a 10-year, 150,000-mile warranty.
3, Might Toyota reconsider if it got fuller answers? We
encourage Toyota to ask its loyal customers who so clearly want PHEVs:
* How many of you would you pay a substantial margin for a PHEV?
* How many of you would settle for a shorter
warranty (assuming, as we do, that the relevant
government agencies would cooperate in the
interest of speeding commercialization)?
4. We make one more request of Toyota. In that
NYT Magazine story, "Reinert adds that every
Toyota engineer designing a new car gets an
environmental-impact budget as well as a
financial one. Designers must consider the total
amount of carbon dioxide produced in the design,
production and lifetime operation of a new vehicle."
* Given the global interest in greenhouse gases,
we encourage Toyota to release to the public the
CO2 numbers for its hybrids, its non-hybrids, and
its estimates for PHEV versions of its hybrids. Let's have a full discussion!
Finally, since Toyota and GM have both said "we want to be first on PHEVs":
While we're congratulating Toyota for "opening
the books" to reveal how much its customers want
PHEVs, let's revisit GM's courageous survey on
the Volt. Since we last visited
on February 11, another 35,000 have signed up.
Below are the current numbers. (See our original
January 11 posting
for our comments on the fact that this is not a scientific poll.)
Would you like to see GM build the Chevrolet Volt?:
Yes - 99.5% (418,011 votes)
No - 0.6% (2,209 votes)
Valid responses: 420,220
If GM builds the Chevrolet Volt, would you consider buying one?
Yes - 99.3% (417,663 votes)
No - 0.7% (2,568 votes)
Valid responses: 420,231
Here's the Toyota newsletter story on PHEVs:
PLUG-I HYBRIDS: WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE ART?
Many challenges face the worlds automakers
The idea seems simple enough: Just add a cord and
a plug to a Prius so you can charge its battery
on ordinary household electric current overnight.
Then, use only the battery power to make the
short round-trips to work, school or the store.
That would save lots of gas, and the charging
could be done mainly at night, when utility rates
are cheaper. When driving longer distances, the
engine kicks in and the vehicle operates on
gasoline, much like todays Hybrid Synergy Drive® vehicles.
This inspiring idea has caught the publics
attention as an energy-security measure that uses
domestic and potentially renewable resources. Not
surprisingly, it has prompted questions to
automakers about when the first commercial
plug-in hybrid can be expected. As the leading
maker of hybrid vehicles, responsible for three
out of four sold in the United States last year,
Toyota receives many of these questions.
Toyota believes plug-in hybrid vehicles are an
appealing technology offering possibilities for
energy diversity. Depending on electric power
sources, they may offer reductions in both
emissions and fuel consumption. Reaching this
vision, however, will require breakthroughs in
battery technology, including capacity,
durability and cost. At present, plug-in hybrid
vehicles are not commercially feasible.
Its about batteries
An earlier edition of Hybrid Synergy View pointed
out that much of the magic that makes hybrid
vehicles work involves high-voltage battery
technology. Bill Reinert, national manager in the
Advanced Technology Group at Toyota Motor Sales,
U.S.A., says, It all comes back to the battery.
If you want to run longer and farther on electric
power alone, it means a bigger battery. It means
charging a battery more fully and discharging it
more completely. And, it means provisions for
cooling or ventilation in order to give the batteries longer life.
You have to decide what you want and what youre
willing to give up, says Reinert. A bigger
battery might mean less space for passengers or
luggage, for example. And a much more costly
battery could mean a very long payback period for
the investment in a fuel-saving plug-in system.
So, Reinert concludes that a great deal of work
is being done in storage battery technology, but much more remains.
Designing a system
Doug Coleman, advanced technology vehicle manager
in Toyotas Vehicle Operations Group, says a
system that allows the driver to stay in electric
mode is referred to as having AER, or
all-electric range. He explains that this kind
of system may not be the first one that reaches commercial production.
To achieve the acceleration, highway speeds and
hill-climbing abilities most motorists demand,
Coleman says, an AER system might need not only
a more powerful battery but a bigger motor and
related electronics as well. This could make it
uneconomical to produce -- too costly for mass distribution.
Its possible, he adds, that a plug-in hybrid
might use a blended system of plug-in battery
power and engine power that doesnt force the
engine to be shut down. A car like that could use
a less powerful motor and battery because its
computer would engage the engine when more power
is needed, much like a Prius does today.
The blended approach, Coleman explains, could
give the vehicle owner the fuel savings and the
emissions reduction he or she is looking for without a lot of extra cost.
Other design challenges
Bill Reinert believes an effective plug-in hybrid
system would not only have to be commercially
practical, it would also need to be so reliable
as to be warranted, like present-day Toyota
hybrids, for up to 10 years or 150,000 miles.
This, he states, would be especially challenging
if the batteries were more deeply discharged,
which could shorten battery life. He says a
global company like Toyota must also make its
system compatible with the variety of household
electric currents and different electric
receptacles and connections used worldwide.
No magic bullet yet
Reinert concludes that none of the plug-in hybrid
systems thus far demonstrated by scientists and
entrepreneurs meet all the challenges of
commercial acceptability. Those challenges, he
says, include size, weight, performance,
durability and cost. But if these can be
overcome, there may well be a bright future for the plug-in hybrid.
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Felix Kramer fkramer@...
Founder California Cars Initiative
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