Can US Automakers Catch Up to Prius?
As President Obama and other administration officials were yesterday announcing $2.4 billion in grants to produce the next generation of hybrid and electric cars in the US, Toyota was tallying record sales of today’s leading hybrid car, the Prius. The Toyota Prius ranked as Japan’s top-selling car in July, its third consecutive month in the top slot. In the US, July sales of the Prius jumped by nearly 50 percent from last month and were up 30 percent from a year ago.
The $2.4 billion in grants will support the deployment and trial of up to 6,873 plug-in hybrid or battery electric vehicles. It could take several months, or as long as a year, to deploy the trial vehicles. Meanwhile, Toyota sold 19,193 Priuses in the United States in July, plus an additional 5,122 hybrids from three other Toyota and Lexus hybrid models.
“I don’t want to have to import a hybrid car,” said President Obama at an appearance yesterday in Warakusa, Ind. “I want to build a hybrid car here.”
It’s About the Batteries
The majority of the $2.4 billion federal investment is supporting next-generation lithium batteries for advanced electric drive vehicles. “More research and more development of batteries is urgent and critical,” said Dan Sperling, director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, in an interview with Christian Science Monitor. “Advanced batteries of different sizes and shapes will be in every car of the future.”
“We’re at the beginning of a very large opportunity,” Brian Wynne, president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, told The New York Times. “There’s a choke point here. The choke point is the availability of automotive-grade batteries. That choke point is worldwide. That’s not a US phenomenon.”
In fact, Automotive News is reporting that Toyota cannot meet booming demand for the current generation of hybrid batteries—nickel metal hydride—because the company, and its battery partner Panasonic EV Energy, cannot produce hybrid batteries fast enough. Takahiko Ijichi, Toyota senior managing director, said, “Unfortunately, the batteries are not catching up with demand. Production of the batteries needs to be increased in order for our production to go up.” Ijichi added, “The new Prius model has been excessively popular.”
Toyota currently has annual Prius capacity of 500,000 cars. Panasonic EV Energy plans to boost capacity to around 1 million batteries by the summer of 2010, Ijichi said. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press yesterday, Jim Lentz, president of Toyota Motor Sales, said, “My vision is to have a family of Prius vehicles.”