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Toyota to Prioritize Hybrids Over Pure Electric Vehicles Over Next Decade

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【Summary】Automakers may be diving headfirst into electric vehicles as a way of meeting fuel and emissions regulations, but Toyota will be sticking to hybrids for the next 10 years.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    May 28, 2018 9:00 AM PT
Toyota to Prioritize Hybrids Over Pure Electric Vehicles Over Next Decade

The automotive industry as a whole is moving towards electric vehicles. While the transition is costing them a fortune when it comes to developing and purchasing the necessary components, it's a move they're being forced to make because of tightening emissions and fuel regulations. While everyone is looking into electric cars, Toyota is sticking with hybrids — the very thing that made them trendsetters with the original Prius back in 1997.


Look For More Hybrids Over The Next Decade 


According to a report by Wards Auto, Toyota will continue to prioritize hybrids over pure electric vehicles over the next decade. The outlet spoke with Shinzuo Abe, general manager of Toyota's powertrain division to get a better understanding of the direction that the automaker is taking for the future. 


When asked about which markets Toyota believes would offer the greatest potential for EVs, Abe responded by stating, "Japan and Europe will continue to grow their hybrid ratios faster than other markets." That's not really surprising as The Guardian reports that a Dutch bank has predicted that all new vehicles sold in Europe will be electric within the next 20 years. Government support, economies of scale, and falling battery costs are all driving the radical adoption of the vehicles. High gas prices could have something to do with it, as well. 


Because of the similarities between hybrids and plug-in hybrids, Abe believes that it would be relatively simple to convert its hybrids into plug-in hybrids. But he also reiterated that hybrids would be Toyota's main focus moving forward. 


"It's possible," he said in regard to the conversion. "But we believe that our biggest weapon for meeting fuel-efficiency and CO2 regulations, not just in Europe but globally, will continue to be (standard) hybrids." Hybrids, as Wards Auto points out, accounted for 41 percent of Toyota and Lexus' sales in Europe last year, so the automaker knows that it has a strong position in the segment. 


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EVs Have Too Many Flaws


Why not make the switch to electric vehicles? Abe pointed towards a couple of issues with the powertrains. "For me personally, it is the battery including cost, size, weight and deterioration characteristics," Abe said, specifically referring to lithium-ion batteries. 


Numerous automakers are having trouble with lithium-ion batteries, which are a necessity when it comes to making electric vehicles. Earlier this month, Hyundai halted production of the Ioniq because of a shortage of lithium-ion batteries. As if that weren't enough, researchers found that the 30 kWh battery pack in the Nissan Leaf degraded three times faster than the old 24 kWh one found in older machines. Both battery packs utilize lithium-ion batteries. 


Another issue is charging. "The second problem is charging. We need to make it possible for users to charge their cars with no inconvenience." Automakers and technology companies are all working on a solution to charging, but none have really found a way to make it truly accessible.


The most promising solution that we've seen recently is from Qualcomm and is a wireless charging system that could arrive in the next 18 to 24 months. The wireless charging pads could be built into roads, parking spaces, and EVs to charge their batteries. That, though, is still a long way away, which means charging is still a problem for EV owners. 


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How Much EVs Cost To Make


Currently, lithium-ion batteries are expensive, which is another reason for Toyota continuing to pursue hybrids. Abe broke down the cost of how much it would cost to build an electric vehicle with a range of 250 miles and it's pretty pricey. 


"For an EV to have a cruising distance of 250 miles, it would probably need a 40 - 50 kWh battery depending on the size and weight of the car," he said. "For the sake of this discussion, if batteries cost $0.18 Whr, multiply that by 40,000 or 50,000 times and you get $7,338 or $9,173. If the battery is $0.28 Whr, then the cost would increase to $9,173 or $13,760." That's a large figure for a single battery pack. 


The price of batteries, though, is expected to fall by half in 2025. But even with batteries drastically dropping in price, that won't exactly lead to high sales figures. "It is not so simple as the cost of batteries coming down," said Abe. "The cars themselves must appeal to consumers." 


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What About Solid-State Batteries?


To help combat the high cost of lithium-ion batteries and the depleting resources to make them, automakers and companies have started to look into solid-state batteries. Late last year, Honda announced that it would be developing solid-state batteries for its electric vehicles and a revitalized Fisker would be returning with the stunning EMotion electric sedan featuring the high-tech battery. 


There was even some talk about Toyota coming out with solid-state batteries by 2020. That, as Wards Auto told Abe, was an ambitious goal, as observers believed that a more realistic timeline would see the technology come out in 2030. Abe stood by the 2020 date, but clarified the capacity to which the batteries would be built. 


"Yes, we did say we are starting this initiative and want to make solid-state batteries available in the early part of the 2020s decade," he said. "But in fact, that won't be on a mass-production basis. We will being with small-lot and trial production. We would never experiment on customers. Like you said, 2030 might be a more realistic timeframe." 


Toyota isn't looking into building the next great thing as a way of getting ahead of others in the industry. The Japanese automaker believes that a period of making better batteries is what needs to be done to help electric vehicles gain widespread acceptance. Getting the technology into the hands of the consumers as soon as possible will help everyone. 

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