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Toyota Reveals How Much Its Customers Want PHEVs; CalCars Suggests More Surveys & Disclosures
Feb 22, 2007 (From the CalCars-News archive)
This posting originally appeared at CalCars-News, our newsletter of breaking CalCars and plug-in hybrid news. View the original posting here.
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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 Newsletter­html/­hybridsynergyview/­2007/­winter/­question.html 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 at­calcars-news/­691.html, full text available at­magazine 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 visited­company/­gm_exp_live/­events/­naias_2007/­index_flash.html on February 11, another 35,000 have signed up. Below are the current numbers. (See our original January 11 posting <­calcars-news/­654.html 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?­html/­hybridsynergyview/­2007/­winter/­plugin.html

    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.

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