Toyota not giving up on fuel cell, but now banking on electric, too
On Monday, Toyota pledged that “by around 2025” every new Toyota or Lexus model vehicle will have an electrified version, whether it be a hybrid electric, a plug-in hybrid electric, or a battery electric version.
The Japanese automaker also said that it is updating its sales goals to target selling 5.5 million electrified vehicles annually by 2030, including more than one-million zero-emissions vehicles (that is, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles) annually. Toyota reportedly sold 1.4 million hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) in 2016.
Toyota has had success with its line of fuel-efficient hybrids for 20 years, but, for a while, the company was tepid about the future of full battery-electric models and seemed to favor a future of fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). Toyota has argued that running a car exclusively on battery power adds extra weight to the vehicle and creates concern among customers about range. Instead, Toyota argued, FCEVs were easily refuel-able. Hydrogen fuel can fill a tank as quickly as gas can, and FCEVs have a range similar to traditional internal combustion vehicles. In addition to marketing the Toyota Mirai passenger vehicle, the company began testing a long-haul fuel-cell semi at the Port of Long Beach as of April. In February, Toyota partnered with Shell to explore building seven hydrogen refueling centers in California.
But hydrogen has its own problems. It's difficult to store, often requiring compression and very low storage temperatures. And, although several years ago hydrogen refueling centers were rare and so were electric vehicle charging stations, electric charging stations have multiplied dramatically. These days, it seems battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are the more accessible future technology.
Fortunately, the automaker’s significant R&D resources allowed it to continue battery research as well as fuel cell research. The company has been working on solid-state battery technology for a few years now, and in its Monday press release, Toyota confirmed that it hoped to bring cars with solid-state batteries to market by the early 2020s. Solid-state batteries have solid electrodes and electrolytes, and they're theoretically smaller and lighter than their traditional lithium-ion counter parts. Other benefits of solid-state batteries include reduced fire risk and the ability to work in a wider variety of temperatures.
In today's press release, Toyota added that it would offer more than 10 BEV models by 2020. The vehicles would start rolling out in China’s market and then become available in Japan, India, the US and the EU. China has one of the fastest-growing electric vehicle markets in the world. It accounted for 40 percent of the passenger BEVs sold around the world in 2016.
Toyota also said that, in addition to bringing solid-state batteries to market, it would partner with Panasonic to conduct “a feasibility study on a joint automotive prismatic battery business.” Prismatic batteries have been commercially available for a while, appearing in the Chevy Volt as early as 2008. (Panasonic, you'll remember, already partners with Telsa to build electric vehicle batteries at the Gigafactory in Sparks, Nevada.)
Finally, the automaker said that it hoped to find a method to streamline battery recycling and support "the promotion of plug-in vehicle charging stations and hydrogen refueling stations" by partnering with companies and collaborating with local governments.
Despite all this, Toyota isn't ready to let fuel cell vehicles become a quirky side project just yet. Earlier this month the company announced that it would build a "megawatt-scale carbonate fuel cell power generation plant" and hydrogen fueling station in Long Beach. The station would serve all of Toyota's fuel-cell trucks operating at the Port of Long Beach.
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