Toyota is known mostly for its hybrid-powered vehicles, with the Prius first coming into mind, but with all the other manufacturers racing towards an EV-only future, the Japanese brand seems to be lagging in terms of a wider-scale adoption on the electric-only front.
In fact, it’s reportedly one of the reasons why its CEO, Akio Toyoda, who’s the grandson of the firm’s founder, will be stepping down in April. But even as Toyota moves to develop its first dedicated EV platform, it still won’t make the shift to an all-electric lineup and now it’s using science to tell EV-only extremists that they’re wrong.
With some solid facts and figures at hand, the carmaker’s Chief Scientist Gill Pratt says that the best approach for a sustainable future is a multipronged one, blending EVs with hybrids and other green technologies, and not a full-on commitment to battery-powered cars only.
Automotive News writes that this pitch was first made at the World Economic Forum in Davos and more recently, Pratt repeated the message from Tokyo, in a bid to offer some context to Toyota’s long-term strategy.
"Time will show that our point of view is actually the correct one," Pratt said in Tokyo. "One way or the other, there will be a diversity of powertrains used throughout the world."
This statement comes as several car brands pledged to go full-electric at some point in the future, with Honda, Acura, Cadillac, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and more saying they’ll do the best they can to become carbon neutral in this century.
By contrast, Toyota wants to sell around 5.5 million internal combustion-engined and plug-in hybrid cars per year from 2030, as well as 3.5 million EVs, including 1 million Lexus-branded cars.
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So Toyota isn’t anti-EV, but it believes in a diversified approach and it’s predicting a global shortage of lithium, which is the most important material used in today’s lithium-ion batteries found in pure EVs, hybrids, and plug-in hybrids.
Gill Pratt and his team concluded that to lower carbon emissions as much as possible, it makes more sense to spread the limited supply of lithium among as many cars as possible, electrifying as many cars as possible.
He hypothesised a fleet of 100 internal combustion engine cars with average emissions of 250 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre travelled. Now, assuming a limited supply of lithium, there’s only enough of it to make 100 kilowatt-hours of batteries. Toyota’s Chief Scientist says that if it were used for a single, big battery, the average emissions of the whole fleet would drop by just 1.5 g/km.
But if the small amount of lithium were spread among smaller, 1.1-kWh batteries, it would be possible to make 90 hybrid cars, which would still leave 10 traditional combustion cars, but the average emissions of the theoretical fleet would drop to a much lower 205 g/km.
It’s a counterintuitive idea, that a big fleet of hybrids would make a bigger positive impact on emissions than a smaller fleet of EVs, and Toyota says this nuance is lost in the talks about adopting EVs on a global scale. Pratt also criticised rival car companies’ ambitions, calling them “happy talk” and saying that their forward-looking statements usually have an asterisk that says “if conditions permit”.
"What has to change is that we have to mature a little bit, and we have to stop doing wishful thinking," he said. "A real discussion is that these are the constraints in the development of resources in the world, both material resources and charging infrastructure and renewable power… If that is true, how do we reduce the total amount of carbon dioxide that will accumulate? That is a mature discussion, not a kind of dream discussion."
According to Automotive News, Gill Pratt was inspired to dig deeper into the battery question by his own family’s experience with a Tesla Model X, which has over 300 miles of range, but the car is typically driven less than 30 miles a day, which means 90 percent of the battery is “dead weight”.