Toyota Continues to Back Hybrids, Believes EV Batteries Are Flawed

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【Summary】Toyota not only believes that electric vehicles are hindered by the amount of cobalt that’s available, but also that democratizing hybrids is better for air quality.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Nov 14, 2018 1:30 PM PT
Toyota Continues to Back Hybrids, Believes EV Batteries Are Flawed

Toyota, the quintessential brand that brought electrified vehicles to life with the Prius, has, interestingly and somewhat confusingly, decided against fully-electric cars. One would think that Toyota, with its rich history of making hybrids, would be one of the first to introduce an electric vehicle. That hasn't been the case, though, as Toyota, unlike other automakers, has shied away from EVs.

Toyota Sticks To Hybrids

Earlier this May, Toyota announced that it would continue to choose hybrids over pure electric cars over the next 10 years. Toyota's general manager of its powertrain division, Shinzuou Abe, pointed toward the high costs, weight, size, and deterioration of batteries in electric cars as the reason for the automaker continuing to avoid battery-powered vehicles like the plague.

Electric vehicles were a large part of the Paris Motor Show, and while other global brands were showing off new cars with electric powertrains, Toyota stood its ground, sticking with its decision to not go down the battery rabbit hole. Top Gear got to speak with Gerald Killmann, one of Toyota's engineers in Europe, who reaffirmed the brand's position.

Killmann provided the same insight on electric vehicles as Abe did before, explaining how the global shortage of batteries doesn't make sense to chase electric cars. "We see hybrid lasting a long time if the shortage of battery manufacturing carries on like today," Killmann told the outlet.

The engineer also put out a philosophical question for the longevity of hybrids: "Say you have 40 kWh cells. Do you put them into one EV and leave 39 other cars as pure internal-combustion, or do you make 40 hybrids, which have roughly 1 kWh of battery each?

Why Are Electric Vehicles Unattractive To Toyota?

That's an interesting dilemma that we haven't heard yet. Some brands haven't even considered hybrids, only developing fully-electric cars as a way to meet emissions and fuel economy standards. EVs are expensive to develop and manufacture, but a lot of automakers believe the high costs are worth it, as the powertrains are seen as the future.

For Toyota, hybrids are the future, and it has something to do with air quality. "Our research shows that in European cities, hybrids are running in zero-emission mode with the engine off for two-thirds of the time and half the distance they drive," said Killmann. "So if we made 40 hybrids instead of one EV we have caused half the miles to be zero-emission. If we made one EV, only one fortieth of the city miles would be zero-emission. That's why it's better for air quality to democratize the hybrid."

Lithium-ion batteries are expensive and hard to come by at the moment, and the demand for the component is expected to double by 2024. That means automakers will have to make tough decisions in the future, which include deciding to make multiple electrified offerings, like hybrids and plug-in hybrids, or one electric vehicle.

Then, there's the industry's move toward solid-state batteries, Killmann points out. While everyone's scrambling to make lithium-ion batteries, in spite of all of the supply shortages involving cobalt, lithium, and nickel, solid-state batteries are on the horizon and will require a lot of money and development on the parts of automakers. It doesn't make financial sense, at least for Toyota, to chase lithium-ion batteries at the moment with solid-state batteries right on the horizon.

If you're waiting to purchase a fully-electric vehicle from Toyota, you'll be waiting for quite some time. But the Japanese brand still has plans to introduce new hybrids, like the Corolla Hybrid, Camry Hybrid, RAV4 Hybrid (pictured), and Lexus UX Hybrid, which all were at the Paris Motor Show. 

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