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Toyota Reveals How Much Its Customers Want PHEVs; CalCars Suggests More Surveys & Disclosures

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  • Felix Kramer
    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
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 22, 2007
      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:


      Many challenges face the world’s 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 today’s Hybrid Synergy Drive® vehicles.

      This inspiring idea has caught the public’s
      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.

      It’s 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 you’re
      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 Toyota’s 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.”

      “It’s possible,” he adds, “that a plug-in hybrid
      might use a blended system of plug-in battery
      power and engine power that doesn’t 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.

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