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Toyota Continues Backslide: Even Lithium May Not Be Enough

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  • Felix Kramer
    Toyota s new full-page newspaper ads show an open road, green fields, an enormous blue sky, and the headline WHY NOT? followed by the poetic: Two words that
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 5, 2007
      Toyota's new full-page newspaper ads show an open road, green fields,
      an enormous blue sky, and the headline "WHY NOT?" followed by the poetic:

      "Two words that are filled with possibilities
      They can turn a challenge into an opportunity
      An obstacle into an inspiration.

      It's a question we ask ourselves at Toyota every day.
      Because we're continuously looking for new ways to improve
      what we do. By asking tough questions.

      Can we make a car that has zero emissions?
      Can we improve the economy of a community?
      Can we enrich the lives of people around us?

      Why not?"

      And a link to
      http://www.toyota.com/whynot -- where the repositioning campaign is found.

      Meanwhile, in the race to bring PHEVs to market, Toyota is
      disagreeing with elected officials, climate crisis and other
      environmental advocates and companies that suggest we start today
      with good enough solutions as the best way to move forward. Here are
      reports on how three journalists have responded to all the new
      obstacles Toyota has raised to PHEVs.

      Only a few months ago, Toyota was sounding positive about PHEVs (see
      http://www.calcars.org/carmakers.html ). Now the company is turning
      almost 180 degrees (ironic, since the PHEV's reverse gear is
      all-electric!) Its responses increasingly communicate "not now...not
      possible...give us credit for building the Prius...trust us." (Its
      new TV ad, visible at the whynot URL shows a Prius effectively built
      of biodegradable twigs.) And it's also saying, "by the way, forget
      about our support of auto industry efforts to defeat higher CAFE
      standards and California's law requiring lower-CO2 cars; ignore our
      immensely profitable Tundra truck and don't look too carefully at our
      Lexus muscle hybrids" (the latest of which, the 2MPG-better 600h at
      $100K, was labelled aggressively as a greenwasher in the Wall Street
      Journal http://online.wsj.com/article/SB119395287391379578.html )

      The campaign for PHEVs has clearly affected the company. It has
      responded by putting a primitive PHEVs on the road -- with one-half
      to one-third the range of after-market conversions. (Though even
      these dozen prototypes, by confirming that Toyota can switch EV-only
      mode up to 62MPH, get people even more excited about PHEVs and more
      convinced Toyota could build better PHEVs anytime it wants to.) Its
      new strategy is to criticize the shortcomings of its own car and
      emphasize the impediments to building anything better.

      For some time,Toyota has publicly and privately asked the California
      Air Resources Board to change its requirement for more hydrogen fuel
      cells cars. Its senior executives say the company is focusing its
      development resources on hybrids. Surprisingly, at the same time,
      Toyota has now begun to publicly link PHEVs with the remnant of its
      fuel cell program. This gives journalists the message that both are
      equally worthy of attention -- and both are far from practical today.
      In its Japanese demonstrations of the PHEV Prius, it put both cars on
      the same track for test drives.

      Some journalists caught on to the game, like Martin Zimmerman from
      the LA Times, who after saying that PHEVs "may have a lot to say
      about how we get around in the future," looked at fuel cell cars and
      saw "a sticker price of about $1 million. Maybe, as some critics like
      to say, hydrogen is the fuel of the future and always will be. But
      for a few brief minutes in the shadow of Fujisan, the future felt
      awfully close at hand."

      Dennis Normile from The New York Times reflected many of Toyota's
      perspective in two articles on the Japanese demos. In "Fuel Cell
      Hurdle: Only the Price Tag," (which appeared online only Nov. 4 at
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/automobiles/04CELL.html ), he
      eagerly reports,

      "We've got the systems engineering solved," Mr. Hirose, general
      manager for fuel cell system engineering and development at Toyota,
      said. "This is close to a commercial vehicle." A brief test drive of
      this hydrogen-fueled Highlander at the company's Higashi-Fuji
      Technical Center near Mount Fuji gave the impression that the goal of
      delivering a showroom-ready model is indeed tantalizingly close.

      The reporter loves the smooth, quiet (all-electric!) ride, then concludes:
      Some challenges remain. Taiyo Kawai, also a Toyota fuel cell
      engineer, explained that fuel cell durability and power density
      needed to be improved. But the toughest nut to crack will be cost of
      a fuel cell vehicle, which they say must drop a hundredfold to be
      commercially viable. Mr. Kawai said that could be achieved by
      improving production efficiency and reducing the use of expensive
      materials like platinum.
      Then there is the issue of building a hydrogen supply infrastructure,
      something Mr. Hirose says will require "society-level decisions."
      Toyota officials are confident that mass commercialization of fuel
      cell vehicles will occur sometime after 2030.

      OUR COMMENT: Why would Toyota bother to show a car it won't
      mass-produce for 20 years?

      In the other report, in the Sunday print edition worldwide and at
      http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/automobiles/04PLUG.html , "As
      Hybrids Evolve, Gains Grow Elusive,' the same Dennis Normile swallows
      the idea that benefits are uncertain and cites a list of obstacles
      without evaluating them. We intersperse our comments:

      And even when new twists in technology do arrive -- developments that
      include plug-in hybrids, which can be recharged on household current
      to give them more driving distance on batteries alone -- it may be
      impossible to give buyers a measure of how much the advances help
      because there is no test to measure their mileage.

      A recent drive in Japan of a prototype Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid
      demonstrated both Toyota's progress in developing vehicles that make
      more use of their electric drive systems and the challenges in
      bringing them to market.

      By putting its considerable engineering and marketing muscle into
      making the Prius the best-selling hybrid car, Toyota established a
      reputation as a green leader among automakers. But that image has
      been questioned by environmental groups that assail Toyota's push
      into big trucks, its stance on proposed United States fuel economy
      standards and its participation in a lawsuit challenging California's
      right to limit carbon dioxide emissions.

      Reasserting its position as the biggest seller of hybrids just before
      the Tokyo auto show opened last month, Toyota let journalists drive
      what is likely to be its next step toward what it calls sustainable
      mobility -- a plug-in hybrid based on the current Prius that would be
      more miserly with fuel and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

      But don't hurry down to your nearest Toyota dealer. Before the car
      reaches showrooms it faces some tough road tests, and even when it
      does arrive, it probably will not replace existing hybrid designs entirely.
      Toyota said that better batteries are needed to extend the car's
      electric-mode range -- and even the most promising prospects may not
      be good enough.

      "Some of our engineers think we must go beyond lithium-ion," said
      Katsuaki Watanabe, president of the Toyota Motor Corporation,
      referring to what is now the leading battery technology for electric vehicles.

      OUR COMMENT: Anyone tracking developments among battery companies and
      other automakers will be astounded by this upping the ante. The
      source is Pres. Watanabe, but he keeps some space between "some
      engineers" and his own views. Is Toyota really now promoting the idea
      that no type of lithium-based battery is practical? Or perhaps the
      journalist misunderstood and Pres. Watanabe means Toyota engineers
      want the company to "go beyond" the lithium-cobalt batteries
      available to it through its Panasonic joint venture, which have far
      more significant safety issues than nanophosphate lithium and other
      batteries already on the market in small quantities.

      The report continues:
      Toyota and the Environmental Protection Agency are mulling over how
      to describe the advantages of adding plug-in capability to a hybrid.
      The current test, which gives the Prius an E.P.A. estimated mileage
      of 55 m.p.g. for combined city and highway driving, does not work.
      Toyota estimates that for a daily commute of 15.5 miles, running
      costs of this prototype will be about 8 percent lower than the
      current Prius if the battery is charged during the day, and 41
      percent cheaper if charged at off-peak rates where time-of-day
      electricity pricing is available.

      OUR COMMENT: Toyota is saying electrical driving costs will be
      negligible unless off-peak rates are available. This sends the
      message: "(like fuel cells) the infrastructure isn't ready." (Watch
      how many states introduce time-of-use pricing in the coming
      years.) And it's correctly saying that regulators will have to
      figure out baseline measures of emissions and cost savings for cars
      that assuredly have major benefits. (A great challenge to face, which
      government agencies and the Society of Automotive Engineers are
      happily working on!)

      By the way, Toyota's 8% number doesn't add up. For Toyota's 15.5
      miles round-trip, half could be all-electric with Toyota's small
      battery range. Let's assume cheap (these days) $2.50 gasoline, 260
      Watt-hours for electric miles on the Prius and US average electrical
      price of 9.67 cents www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/epm_sum.html
      Standard 55MPG Prius, 7.75 miles = 0.14 gallons or $0.35
      All-electric: 7.75 miles =2 kiloWatts = $0.20
      Electric miles 42% cheaper at daytime rates; entire 15.5 mile
      range 21% cheaper.

      The company did the journalist and his readers a disservice by not
      reminding him to use the new EPA combined figure for the Prius:
      46MPG Prius, 7.75 miles = 0.17 gallons or $0.42 of $2.50/gallon gasoline
      All-electric: 7.75 miles =2 kiloWatts = $0.20
      Electric miles 52% cheaper at daytime rates; entire 15.5 mile
      range 26% cheaper.

      The report continues:
      Cuts in carbon dioxide emissions depend on the source of the
      electrical power. Toyota calculates that in the United States, with
      its dependence on coal, the plug-in hybrid would cut carbon emissions
      4 percent compared with a conventional Prius; in France, where more
      nuclear plants generate electricity, the reduction would be 34 percent.

      OUR COMMENT: We urge Toyota to release its assumptions, which are
      significantly lower than those of many reports, including the
      widely-recognized recent study by EPRI-NRDC study (see CalCars-News).
      And it's curious for a company that asks "why not," to be entirely
      backward-looking, focusing on yesterday's battery technology and on
      the emissions profile of a power grid that was built when no one was
      thinking about CO2 and will inevitably get cleaner.

      The article concludes:
      All those calculations are based on nickel-metal hydride batteries;
      going to lithium-ion batteries with greater power storage capacity
      would increase the benefits. Toyota, like other companies, is working
      on that technology but is cautious about saying when it will be
      ready. The goal is to make the combined battery pack and charger
      about the size and weight of the current Prius battery, but twice as powerful.

      Among other benefits, this would mean Toyota could introduce a
      plug-in Prius without a major model change. But, Mr. Asakura said,
      the lithium-ion batteries have a long way to go to achieve that
      performance with acceptable safety, reliability and longevity.


      A most important question these days is what will fuel the hundreds
      of millions of new cars that are built in developing nations. (See
      columnist Thomas Friedman's "No, No, Don't Follow Us" about Tata's
      planned $2,500 car for
      India http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/04/opinion/04friedman.html .)
      Friedman, a supporter of PHEVs, here rightly focuses on the need to
      vastly expand mass transit rather than four-wheeled vehicles.

      What does Toyota say? In the Reuters report that follows in its
      entirety, managing officer Tatehito Ueda says "China is not the place
      for electric cars" because they will run on coal. He doesn't take the
      next step in that reasoning to look at the future. As the world's car
      fleet increases rapidly and as global petroleum supplies are
      increasingly stretched, China and India will turn to gasoline made
      from their domestic coal ("coal-to-liquid)." CTL is among the
      technologies lumped together as "clean coal" by its advocates. It's
      called "perpetual pollution" by the Montana Environmental Information
      Center. CTL will be 2-3x higher in CO2 than coal used for electric
      cars. Toyota presumes that nothing changes -- that China doesn't
      begin to shift away from coal toward renewables (which it must if the
      world is to survive), while assuming that large scale carbon capture
      and sequestration is unavailable (which we agree is a realistic assumption).

      In this Reuters article we're surprised to find additional impediments:

      * Some people won't have plugs, so Toyota will have to build two
      kinds of hybrids--those that plug in and those that don't (what a burden!)
      * The journalist has been told PHEVs are "based on fuel cell
      technology" -- from which he concludes that it shares the fuel cell's
      "always 20 years away" status.
      * Plug-in owners might get tired of plugging in. They would forget
      about the cost and environmental benefits and someday feel too
      overburdened or impatient to spend 10 seconds on the way out of the
      garage at night connecting the car to an extension cord and
      unplugging it in the morning. Clearly this calls for years of study.
      (As for cellphone owners...)
      * Toyota teases us with a great lightweight PHEV: the 1/X. But it's
      only a concept....sending the message Toyota would rather wait not
      just for perfect batteries but for fully optimized carbon-fiber vehicles.

      China is no place for electric cars:Toyota
      Mon Oct 22, 2007 4:23am EDT

      TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese carmaker Toyota is working to improve its
      hybrid cars and develop electric cars for the future, but an official
      said on Monday that these vehicles would not help reduce CO2
      emissions in China.

      "In France, 80 percent of electricity is produced by nuclear stations
      so if electric cars replace fossil fuel cars then you have a clear
      reduction in the emission of CO2," said at Toyota Motor Corp.

      "But in China they make electricity by burning coal, so China is not
      the place for electric cars," he told the Nikkei International
      Automotive Conference in Tokyo.

      Toyota has introduced a so-called 'plug-in' hybrid vehicle -- in
      which the electric part of the engine can be charged up from the
      electricity network -- in France in partnership with EDF and will
      introduce this elsewhere as well.

      The vehicle is based on its Fuel Cell stack technology, but Ueda said
      a lot of issues needed to be resolved to make this a mass technology,
      both in infrastructure and in vehicles.

      In the meantime, improved fuel economy through reduced running
      resistance, or friction, and an improved power train can cut
      emissions. Software can help make mechanical actions more precise and
      reduce fuel consumption, he said.

      At the Tokyo Motor Show, Toyota introduced another possible approach
      in its 1/X concept vehicle. Rather than increase battery capacity,
      the 1/X relies on cutting vehicle weight with a
      carbon-fiber-reinforced body that weighs 925 pounds, or about
      one-third that of the current Prius. It is also a plug-in hybrid that
      can run on a mixture of gasoline and ethanol.

      The problems of changing to a plug-in fleet are not all technical.
      Anyone without regular access to an outlet -- that would include most
      apartment dwellers -- would be better off with a conventional Prius
      rather than a plug-in because the plug-in's larger and heavier
      battery pack would cut mileage. Automakers would need to make both
      plug-in and no-plug models.

      Toyota is also concerned that plug-in owners might tire of connecting
      their cars every day. Some answers on consumer expectations and daily
      performance should come out of evaluations of the prototypes to be
      conducted at the Irvine and Berkeley campuses of the University of
      California that will begin later this month.

      The uncertainties mean Toyota officials simply won't be pinned down
      as to when a plug-in hybrid will hit the market. When pressed, all
      Mr. Asakura would say is: "As quickly as possible."

      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
      Felix Kramer fkramer@...
      Founder California Cars Initiative
      mobile to July 16: 42 36 63 18 59 27
      -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
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