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Toyota Europe Unplugs the EV Hype Machine

ToyotaThe electric vehicle hype won’t be a mass-market phenomenon, and gasoline hybrids will be the core technology for the next decades: That’s the gist of a technical workshop by Toyota in Cologne, Germany.

In a speech by Toyota Motor Europe R&D chief Masato Katsumata, the company points out that EVs are mainly feasible for city cars and small commercial vehicles. “We don’t expect any short-term breakthrough in battery technology,” says Katsumata.

Dirk Breuer, technological advisor and spokesman for Toyota Germany, points out the sadly insufficient energy density of current battery technology: to store as much energy as you have in a 12-gallon gasoline tank, you need nickel-metal-hydride batteries with a volume of over 400 gallons, he points out. The FT-EV fully electric car, Toyota’s current concept, has a range of only 50 miles.

Heating and cooling cars will be a major problem, says Breuer: “For a heater, you need about 5 kilowatts, for air conditioning, about 4 kilowatts - even in a small car.” Customers might have to choose between arriving home freezing, or getting stuck with empty batteries. “Some say that fast charging stations, which would give you a sufficient boost within 20 minutes, are a solution. You should know they cost about 30,000 euros (about $44,000) each,” Breuer warns. He adds that about 50 percent of electric power is lost in the transfer from outlet to the battery.

Breuer further points out that while EVs are best suited to city driving, 80 percent of European city dwellers don’t know on any given day where they will park their car at night. EVs would also have to communicate with the charging stations, another unsolved problem. “The infrastructure is a very costly problem,” he says. Shai Agassi’s Better Place project seems to be well thought out, Breuer acknowledges. “I don’t see how it can be offered at the projected cost,” adds Breuer.

Unsurprisingly, Breuer goes to lengths defending the Toyota-style full hybrid. The mild hybrid offers too little for too much cost, says Breuer; range-extender style hybrids, on the other hand, suffer from too much loss within the powertrain.

What about diesel? Diesel technology currently enjoys a privilege when it comes to emissions, Breuer frets. Compliance with upcoming EU6/BIN5 regulation, on the other hand, will make the diesel hugely complex and expensive. “At that point, we need an 11-step cleaning process, basically a chemical factory attached to the engine,” Breuer says sarcastically. “Gasoline hybrids are already cheaper to produce than diesels,” he adds.

Given that diesel engines are far more efficient than gasoline engines, wouldn’t a diesel hybrid, such as the one French carmaker PSA is working on, make sense? Too complex and expensive, says Breuer.

But with a European diesel market share of about 50 percent, Toyota is not ready to give up diesel technology, contrary to widespread reports. “We stopped work on one particular engine, a 1.6 diesel co-developed with Isuzu,” says Breuer. “But we will continue selling and refining our 1.4-liter and the bigger 2.0/2.2-liter turbo-diesel.”

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Toyota Europe Unplugs the EV Hype Machine
Toyota Europe Unplugs the EV Hype Machine

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