Exclusive: Toyota Explains Its Position on Electric Cars

It appears that every automaker in the world has caught electric car fever, save one: Toyota, the one best known for green cars.

While General Motors and Nissan will both introduce plug-in cars next year, and Ford will follow in 2011, Toyota does not plan to bring an all-electric car to market until 2012. Yesterday, The New York Times declared, “Toyota has fallen behind in the race for the all-electric car.” San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, an electric car advocate, said earlier this year that Prius-style hybrids are “yesterday’s technology.” And Toyota competitors are touting plug-in cars they claim will get the equivalent of 200 or 300 miles to the gallon—putting the Prius’s 50 mpg to shame.

One might expect this criticism to spark Toyota to accelerate its plans for electric cars or a plug-in hybrid. But Toyota’s planners are showing more steely concentration than a Buckingham Palace guard taunted by tourists.

“Our hair is never on fire. We’re not looking around at the latest PR articles, and saying oh my gosh, we have to change our plans because somebody said this or that,” explained Doug Coleman, US-based Prius product manager at Toyota. “We’re pacing ourselves in a way that we think that we can be competitive in a few years time for a market that makes sense for both us and the customer.” Jana Hartline, Toyota’s environmental communication manager, added, “Our outlook has never been to be the first to market. We want to be the best to market.”

While GM, Ford, and Nissan—and newcomers like Tesla, Fisker, and Coda—busily generate buzz for their grid-connected vehicles, Toyota has been nearly silent about electric cars. In an exclusive interview with HybridCars.com, we asked Coleman and Hartline to explain Toyota’s position on plug-in hybrids and electric cars.

Turn Down the Noise

To understand Toyota’s approach to plug-in cars, imagine that Toyota’s product planners are listening to three radio broadcasts at the same time. The first program blasts a frenzied chorus of voices from the automotive press, political circles, electric car and clean energy enthusiast groups, and the blogosphere—clamoring for electric cars NOW. This broadcast is the loudest, but Toyota mutters and hits mute (much like you and I would were we listening to Terry Jacks singing “Seasons in the Sun,” circa 1973).

“It’s very easy to construct a story that says Toyota is falling behind by looking for people who are advocates for a certain technology,” said Coleman. “We’re listening to all perspectives, but we’re making our own judgments based upon our own data and our own forecasts.” Depending on your view, Toyota is either turning a deaf ear to early influencers, or putting the pressure of an unrepresentative group in proper perspective. “In terms of the overall population—300 million people in the US—there’s a very small portion of the population that wants to leapfrog [to electric cars] and says hybrid is yesterday’s technology,” said Coleman.

Cautious About the Technology

The second radio broadcast features voices of the competition, engineers, and battery companies—many of whom are saying the critical battery technology for plug-in hybrids and electric cars is completely ready for prime time. Toyota planners don’t mute this channel, but it’s dropped down to a hush.

“One of the key challenges with electric vehicles is obviously battery cost,” Hartline said. “That is, bringing a vehicle to market that provides the utility that people need, including durability and range, at a price point that will work for the customer.” Automotive News recently reported that costs for the battery and other specialized components for the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid are running much higher than anticipated—forcing the sticker price from the high $20,000 range to beyond $40,000. General Motors is betting the farm that, at some uncertain point in the future, it will be able to reduce those costs as it ramps up production.

Toyota is not yet ready to make the same bet on plug-ins. “If we had a technology that was ready today—if we had the battery at a performance and quality and durability and price point that we could put into a car and mass manufacture it for some market and both sustain our business and provide value to the customer—we’d do it,” said Coleman. “We’re trying to get to that point in the future.”

Some might argue that Toyota already proved plug-in readiness with the hundreds of RAV4 EVs it produced a decade ago. But the company would argue that Toyota had difficulty selling that vehicle, even in EV-friendly California, and it would be even more challenging to make a vehicle with RAV4’s technical specs a success throughout the country. Popular media coverage at the time talks about how Toyota was caught unawares by demand for the product, and hand-assembled the last demanded Rav4 EVs from spare parts.

All About Customers

The final speaker carries the voice of customers. Toyota cranks this one up to 11. “Too often the conversation gets caught up in what’s the technology trajectory, and people forget to ask ‘what’s the human trajectory?’” said Coleman. “What does the customer really want? How big are the markets for these products? How big are the sub-markets, because you have to start parsing it into—some want midsize vehicles, some want minivans, etc.—and even tastes and preferences and style.” Toyota says it doesn’t subscribe to a one-size-fits-all philosophy when it comes to electric cars. “It’s not one plug-in, the first to market, that’s going to satisfy 100 percent of the plug-in market demand,” Coleman said.

Hartline emphasized the importance of Toyota’s demonstration project that will place 500 plug-in Priuses in fleets globally later this year. About 150 of those vehicles will be evaluated in the United States. “We really want to understand what people expect from charging. Are they going to be charging three or four times during the day, or are they only going to charge at night? How are they going to be using that vehicle? How are they going to be maximizing, or maybe not maximizing, those electric miles on the plug-in?” she pondered. “That’s going to help us define who the proper customer is for that vehicle. Because honestly, it might not be the right car for every person.”

As the brand manager for Prius, Coleman also has spent a lot of time talking to Prius owners, because he believes the same demographic will be the first to buy a plug-in car. “They’re not crazy with money. Even the people who are most passionate look for value. Or at least want to be able to see where they can get all their needs met,” he said. “It’s not just the pure technology.” Coleman said he would be “shocked” if Prius owners all jumped at plug-in hybrids. Some are going to love plugging in and others will never ever want to plug in.

Risk Adverse

For Toyota and all the car companies considering electric cars, it comes down to a judgment call on a few key questions: Is the technology ready for mass production? What’s the potential size of the market? Can plug-in cars meet customer expectations?

As the clear leader in the hybrid space—and with a ton of profit still to be made from current generation gas-electric technology—it will be tough for Toyota to answer those questions without some bias.

Coleman believes one of two things is going on. “Either competitors’ technology is significantly better and more proven to those companies. And they’re able to launch [plug-in cars] earlier than us. Or the technologies are roughly comparable, and those companies are willing to take greater risks with potential quality issues.”

He’s not sure which one is correct. “They may be ahead of us. But we’re progressing at a rate with as much urgency as we can without compromising quality.”

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  • Eric

    I am ready for plug-ins yesterday and I’m not in California, I’m in Texas! Of course someone visiting this site is not exactly a typical consumer. I think Toyota’s wording is carefully crafted to scare people from becoming early adopters until Toyota is ready. I ain’t scared!

  • Austintatuious

    I agree with Toyota that caution and prudence are essential to marketing new technologies, including a viable electric vehicle. I’m talking about a vehicle having reasonable range and reliability, size sufficient to handle a family of 4-5, and reasonably priced.

    I also take the plug in claims of Chevy, Ford and even Nissan with very large grains of salt. While I wish them the best, I’ll believe their good news when I know that it’s true.

    That said, Toyota is making a big mistake if it truly believes that there is not sufficient customer interest in an electric vehicle meeting the requirements I described above. I believe there are large numbers of individuals whose situations could accommodate just such a vehicle, right now, and who would love to give one a try.

    I believe Toyota is well ahead of the game with the Prius, a vehicle that I am intimately familiar with, but I also believe it would be a big mistake for them to sit on their laurels and fail to move forward with their own plug in models as rapidly as prudence and reasonable caution allows.

  • Skeptic

    Heyyy … I like that song!


  • Bob Wison

    This is the voice of reason and intellect. If someone has to have an electric car, there are options … Tesla, Fisker, and others. But these are not ready for ‘prime time.’ Their costs, low units and performance all shout ‘prototype’ or “Beta.” Let’s get real folks.

    If you really want an electric, get an electric motorcycle or bicycle first. Live with a single person electric for a while and if you like it, there are ways to ‘roll your own.’ But let’s not ask someone else to do what we ourselves are unwilling or incapable of accomplishing.

    We’ve got two Prius in our family, a 2003 and 2010, and they get used every day. They didn’t drive us into bankruptcy and they work. So I’m not holding my breath waiting for the electric car … GM’s EV1 should have told folks already that is the path to the junkyard.

    At least Toyota kept some of their electric RV4s on the road.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Ok, Let’s get a bit of the Toyota story correct: They refused to sell their great performing RAV4EV, even in “EV friendly California” for the first 2 – 3 years of its existance. Initially, one could only lease it and then only in quantities of about 13 vehicles at a time ( a few more than even the average “EV friendly” Californian needs in his/her driveway). A little later, they began leasing out RAV4EVs one at a time to some businesses that worked hard for the privilege. At one point, an “EV friendly” Californian got the chance to ask the president of Toyota why they wouldn’t sell him a RAV4EV at a public Q&A session. His response was (incorrectly) that they did sell them. This put Toyota USA into a quandry (something counter to the culture of Japanese companies) so, for a period of less than 1 year, in 2002, Toyota actually sold about 200 RAV4EVs through only a few select dealerships in California only.
    Later, in about 2005, they started forcing all of their leasees to return their vehicles at the end off the leases and crushing them, just like GM, Honda, Nissan, Ford, and Chrysler were.
    Unfortunately, they were caught doing this (http://www.pluginamerica.org/about-us/fight-for-rav4-ev.html) and, Plug-In America (the quintessential EV friendly Californians) threatened to embarrass them for destroying the leased cars while still supporting the purchased ones. Today, there are around 350 RAV4EV’s in private hands. You can read a lot of their stories here: http://www.pluginamerica.org/learn-about-plug-ins/real-life-ev-stories.html and here http://www.evnut.com/.
    These cars are still working great after over a decade, many people are willing to pay a lot of money for them.
    Nope, you can tell when Toyota is lying: their lips are moving.
    They don’t want to sell EVs. They probably have many reasons for not wanting to including perhaps:
    1) Don’t want to kill their goose that is laying the golden eggs (Prius)
    2) Don’t want a car that doesn’t use an internal combustion engine since they’ve invested so much money in that technology.
    3) They’re waiting for the others to work out the bugs so they can come in and sell better one without contributing to it’s development.

  • Paul Scott

    Toyota’s reticence is understandable for a conservative company, but they are taking a chance of losing market share to Nissan. The adoption of plug-in technology is very closely tied to the price of gas, so the gamble is what happens with that. Cap & trade will have a slight effect, but not for a while. Once the global economy picks up, the effects of peak oil will surely be felt, and this could be huge. Then, there is the potential for Israel attacking Iran’s nuke construction which would immediately shut down the Strait of Hormuz. Since 40% of the globe’s oil passes through this narrow strait, the effects of the price of gas would be immediate and substantial.

    We know Toyota can build a good EV. The RAV4 EV I’ve been driving for 7 years still runs exactly the same as the day I got it. The assertion by Toyota that they “had difficulty selling that vehicle” is pure fabrication. 100% of the RAVs they made available were snapped up quickly at $42,500 each. They really should stop perpetuating that lie.

    The trend is definite toward plug-ins. It’s really just a matter of time. Once you drive a car that makes no noise, emits no pollution, accelerates powerfully, and is cheap to operate, you’ll not want to go back to the noisy, polluting internal combustion vehicles of last century.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Bob Wilson,
    Where do I get an electric motorcycle that’s a real motorcycle?
    The first of anything are prototypes or Beta models. Such is life. We don’t kill our kids because they aren’t fully functional adults so why shouldn’t we nurture our technology? EVs have the potential to save our way of life instead of settling with the unstainable status quo that the existing industrial powers can give us without having to compromise their profits..
    The only thing “my” GM EV1 told me is that it can be done but some folks don’t want it to be done. I didn’t go into bankruptcy and it worked. I guess the Prius told us that we can buy any car we want as long as it has a gasoline engine, a transmission, and can only use gasoline as its fuel.
    Please don’t ignorantly dis’ the sustainable car that was taken from me and I won’t dis’ your gas guzzling prius.
    Toyota didn’t keep any of their RAV4EVs on the road. Sneaky, committed, strong willed US citizens did.

  • Anonymous

    My opinion is that Toyota is going to continue to be cautious about plug-ins and EVs. That is the corporate nature and it has served them well. The company would rather put out vehicles that are dependable and enhance their reputation than to rush to market with vehicles that are sketchy and end up hurting their brand.

    And even though there is a loud cry for EVs, I believe that there is a much smaller market for them. They are more of a niche vehicle. The single largest downfall of an EV is total usefulness: a combination of range and charge time. Having a 40-50 mile range is a limit that will be a show-stopper for many buyers. If it could recharge in 3-5 minutes, then the range limit would be more workable. But charging will most likely be measured in hours. If a driver runs out of juice, they are stranded.

    I’m not against an EV, I’m just pointing out what I think would disqualify them from many Americans’ purchase plans. The average buyer needs an all-round useful vehicle. One that can take short trips, commutes/daily driver, day trips (over 50 miles), and long distance (all day) trips.

    An EV excels at short trips and would handle many drivers’ commutes (although it would start being risky). But it would already start to fail on a day trip that goes past its range. Think about this: a 50 mile range is about 1 hour’s worth of highway driving. That would not take care of any day trips I’ve taken.

    My opinion is that average Americans need a car that can do all four types of driving because a car is owned for 3-10 years. Over that time, a driver will need a vehicle that can get them to work and travel all day (400-500 miles).

    Then there’s the issue of price. If an EV were $5-10k then consumers could afford to buy it as an extra car. If it is $20k then fewer buyers could afford it (thus a smaller niche). At $30 or $40k then it costs as much as a luxury car. Very few people could afford it.

    Some people will buy an EV as a main driver and rent or travel commercially. But I don’t think the majority will and that’s why I think an EV is a niche vehicle.

    PHEVs should have a larger market because they can be refueled and can be used in all four driving scenarios. But they will be more expensive than ICE and hybrid vehicles and have a market size between traditional cars and EVs. Just my opinion.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Where are you getting your 50 mile number?
    Only the 1st generation of 1997 GM EV1s got that pathetic of a range. All other modern full-performance EVs have gotten at least 100 miles on a charge. I agree that 50 miles isn’t enough but 100 miles works well for over 90% of one’s usage.
    Your only partially correct on your issue of taking a while to charge. It can be easily done in less than 1 hour but would take a special infrastructure to accommodate it. Today’s existing household infrastructure (240V) can charge 100 miles of range in about 2 – 4 hours.
    You’re also missing a benefit of EVs in that you can easily charge overnight, at your home. Try that with a gasoline car.
    You’re right that EVs are a niche market. All cars are niche markets, that’s why there are so many completely different models available.

  • Toots McGillicutty

    Anonymous makes a great comment (great name by the way Anon)…clever….

    …It’s about range…(convenience too) Right now, I can drive as long as as far as I want in my gasoline powered car…I don’t want that part of my driving experience altered. I know that when I run low on fuel, there is a gas station an exit away that can INSTANTLY get me going again.

    An EV doesn’t have that luxury. It’s strictly a specialty, work commuter car and many families don’t have the extra income to have a car like that…especially if they have kids. Many families need to be flexible and end up driving long distances on any given day transporting their kids to lessons, practices, school functions, sleepovers, camps, etc. Multiple kids means that both parents are usually going in opposite directions with their kids. Many of those trips are out of the range of many of the proposed EV’s. With an EV, if you run out of juice and you stop driving…for a long period of time.

    The only way an EV can work as an everyday family car or a car for a person with a sales type of job, where miles are racked up on a daily basis is to have battery exchange stations. Pop a used battery pack out and a recharged one back in. That experience should take just about as long and be just as convenient as a gas station, or families and business people won’t buy.

  • Toots McGillicutty

    Anonymous makes a great point…Great name by the way Anon…Clever.

    It’s about range…and convenience too. I know that I can travel as long and as far as I want in my gasoline powered car. If I am running low on fuel, I know that there is a filling station just an exit away to INSTANTLY get me back on the road again. I don’t want that part of my driving experience altered at all.

    Straight EV’s are just specialty commuter cars and most families can’t afford from a budget and a time management standpoint, to have a car with that type of limitation. A typical family with 2 or more kids on any given day will travel far beyond the range of a typical EV. Families with multiple kids are usually going in opposite directions, schlepping kids to lessons, practices, school functions, camps, sleepovers, parties, etc that even a full tank of gas can’t handle without a top off.

    An EV is too limited and the only way to make it work is to make it as convenient as it’s gas competitor. EV’s need to be designed with a standardized battery with battery exchange stations in mind. Once the battery runs low…a driver just pops out the spent battery pack and inserts a newly recharged one at a station…just like gas stations…The time to exchange should not take as long as a gasoline refill or families or business people with sales oriented jobs that require extended driving miles, will not buy.

    That’s the solution…

  • greg smith

    Toyota had a good run but its over now.

    Toyota is living in the past much like GM did when they were number one.

    Toyota Exc are thinking oh this will pass we will be number one still.

    The real issue is there is only one way to go like GM did when they were number 1.

    Toyota needs to learn from GM not to become complaisant with technology and to move forward.

    Toyota has no electric car technology and is way behind GM.

    So wait a few years Copy GM then come out with your own.

    Its a good move and something Toyota is good at To copy another innovations.

    Right now Lexus is advertising heads up display something GM had in 1980!

  • Mr.Bear

    I actually think hybrids are the future. Hybrids with a toggle switch for switching between electrc mode only and running in hybrid mode. I think the Volt’s plan to run electrc with a gas generator back up for recharging the battery is a bad way to go. Keep the coasting. Keep the regen breaking. Keep the option for hybrid driving on long trips where the driver knows they will exceed the 40-50 mile electrc only range.

    And don’t put the biggest asterisk in the history of asterisks on the fuel efficiency of your new car to generate buzz about it. And keep the cost lower than that of a luxery car.

  • EVO
  • sean t

    I think Anon is correct:
    “That is the corporate nature and it has served them well” in the past. May be it still serves well in the present and future. They’re very cautious w/ Li-ion battery. Imagine a Li-ion battery catches fire INSIDE your car, not a pretty image, uh?

  • Toots McGillicutty


    Dude isn’t gasoline pretty darn flammable? Imagine gas igniting inside your car…not a pretty image uh? You sound like my Jewish mother.

  • Dan L

    I am waiting on the edge of my seat for an EV, but Toyota has a point. The technology is just not ready for the mass market. With today’s technology, the batteries needed for an all-electric range of 200 miles would cost $50,000. So, the whole vehicle, including batteries, would cost $70k+. That gives you enough range to drive for 3 hours on the highway. Then plug it in for a day or two to charge it back up….

    An extended range EV is much more practical, but it is a delicate balancing act. If the electric range is less than the distance of your daily commute, the savings in fuel cost just about offset the added cost of the battery over a decade of driving. But you have to plug it in every night and unplug it every morning.

    None of Toyota’s competitors are claiming they have overcome these issues. They are offering products with significant limitations compared to traditional vehicles.

    By comparison, the Prius is a no-brainer. When compared to traditional vehicles, it is reasonably priced, has no additional limitations, and delivers amazing fuel economy.

  • sean t


    You misunderstood me. Gas still catches fire in case of sever collision, who doesn’t know that? What I said is Li-ion, due to high density of energy, catches fire much more easily than Ni Hydride, w/o a severe collision. That’s why Toyota uses the proven battery in their just released Prius.
    To me Toyota is a quite conservative company.

  • RKRB

    In an quickly-evolving world, it’s hard to plan on staying ahead forever, but it’s also hard to beat Toyota’s track record for partial electric vehicles. Fully electric vehicles are great if you plan to drive only for short distances (in warm weather), but they are not as versatile as most Americans seem to want, electric power plants are not completely green, and I wouldn’t want to drive one to a job interview during a cold spell after the electric power has failed during the night. Lithium and plug-ins may be the waves of the future, but so are nuclear fusion, scramjets,and Cubs World Series tickets, and not everyone needs such an expensive solution. 50 mpg is not perfectly green, but neither is GM’s 320 mpg estimate (and Toyota’s is more believable). The only reasons not to consider a Prius are that they don’t have sporty handling, and that the lower weight gives less protection against all the distracted drivers on their cell phones/ texting devices/ TV screens.

    Conservatism is kind of a dirty word these days, but if Toyota is being conservative, I’d have a hard time betting against them. Their hybrids (and Ford’s, which basically co-evolved) seem a great blend between proven technology and innovative evolution, and if all cars were as efficient as the Prius, we’d almost be energy independent and breathing cleaner air.

  • Aistintatious

    For the next couple of decades, it’s not an “either/or” answer. The correct answer is a both. A hybrid, for those residing in a rural setting or for those required to drive significant distances or a regular basis will be the optimal alternative, for fuel efficiency and lowest emissions. For these people, an EV simply will not be practical in the absence of significant new infrastucture for charging or battery replacement.

    For city dwellers, an EV will be the best alternative for most, if a reliable product is available. And regardless of the skepticism of some, a reliable EV would catch on quickly in the urban markets, right now, if reasonably priced. For those wishing to get away on a vacation or to visit grandma two or three states distant, the EV wouldn’t be practical but taking a plane, train, or bus, or renting a hybrid would be.

    For many households, owning one of each will be the solution.

  • Jack Morrison

    Toyota is developing electric cars. They just don’t want anyone to know it. They are in the lead with the sales of Prius and don’t want future buyers to think that it will be obsolete any time soon. They can safely sell the Prius for the next couple of years before electric cars start to catch up in range, price, and re-charge times. Once electrics do catch up, hybrids will fade like cassette players. (They were better than 8-track players but digital changed the whole paradigm). Electrics aren’t quite there yet but they are coming fast. Electrics are paradigm changers. As ultracapacitors develop and accompanying battery technology improves, electrics will dominate the market. Toyota knows it, but is not ready to admit it – yet.

  • Anonymous

    Plug-In car = Coal burning car.
    But you never hear them say 300 miles on a gallon of gas and the ton of coal required to make the electricity it took to charge the car.

    And with the electricty prices in texas, an electric vehicle will cost more to drive than a regular hybrid.

  • alancamp

    It seems the biggest barrier to electric cars is the manufactures not wanting to lose out on the cash cow that has been ‘Routine Maintenance’.

    With No Fluids, Spark Plugs, Belts to adjust or replace, No Tune Ups, and software updates that the consumer can do at home via internet updates. All that’s left is brakes, tire rotations, wiper blades, bulbs.

    It seems Toyota/GM are trying to hang on to the past with the ‘hybrid’ cars which force the consumer to buy both an gasoline and electric car at the same time. Which will still require all maintenance for the petro components, along with any electric maintenance.

    I will be waiting for a full electric car with at least 100 miles per charge.

  • alancamp

    Has anyone noticed that the upcoming electric car mentioned in the article is the Toyota IQ that’s on sale now in Europe?


  • Greg Blencoe

    Here is an example of one of the problems with plug-in hybrid vehicles that was not discussed in this article.

    In an extensive study by the Idaho National Laboratory of 115 plug-in Priuses across the U.S., the vehicles averaged less than 50 miles per gallon which is only slightly better than a standard Toyota Prius.

    How many mainstream consumers are going to pay up to $10,000 or more for the larger batteries for this type of performance?

    (From AutoBlog) REPORT: 115 Plug-in Toyota Prius test cars fail to crack 50 mpg average in year-long test


    Toyota knows that the real solution is hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

    Here are 7 reasons to love Toyota hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (very few people are aware of all of the information below):

    1. 431-mile real-world driving range with Toyota FCHV-adv (mid-size SUV) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle (See YouTube video below)

    2. 68.3 real-world miles per kilogram fuel economy with Toyota FCHV-adv (See YouTube video below)

    3. Ability to operate in temperatures as low as minus 22 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 30 degrees Celsius)

    4. Irv Miller, TMS group vice president, environmental and public affairs, made the following comment on August 6th:

    “In 2015, our plan is to bring to market a reliable and durable fuel cell vehicle with exceptional fuel economy and zero emissions, at an affordable price.”

    5. Masatami Takimoto, a Toyota executive vice president and board member, made the following comment in January at the North American International Auto Show:

    “By 2015, we will have a full-fledged commercialization effort.”

    6. The Toyota FCHV-adv (Highlander) hydrogen fuel cell vehicle has the same trunk and passenger space as the gasoline-powered version.

    Click on the following link to see a picture of the trunk in the Toyota FCHV-adv hydrogen fuel cell vehicle.

    7. Here is a comment made by Justin Ward, advanced powertrain program manager-Toyota Technical Center, in a Ward’s Automotive article (subscription required) that was published on July 16th:

    “We have some confidence the vehicle released around 2015 is going to have costs that are going to be shocking for most of the people in the industry. They are going to be very surprised we were able to achieve such an impressive cost reduction.”


    Greg Blencoe
    Chief Executive Officer
    Hydrogen Discoveries, Inc.

  • Vcorcl

    Toyota, if you are listening, market hybrid minivan in the US. I have three kids and it’s not easy to pack 3 kids in a sedan. Not that i don’t care for plug in EV. The technology is not mature enough for mass production at a price that we can afford. Only those wealthy celebrities or politicians can afford a $40k+ Chevy Volt, but not me.

  • ACAGal

    Fisker was ahead of GM and Ford. Tesla was ahead of Fisker. The writer “miss-spoke”. Since both companies, had to invent their company and develop manufacturing sites from scratch, they’ve had twice as much work as the other guys….but their push is what shoved GM, Ford etc into the EV or extended range market. THANKS GUYS!!!!

  • Desrtstraw

    The paragraph about the Toyota RAV4 Electric is a tap dance around the obvious. Toyota itself proved the viability of electric vehicles ten years ago using the NiMH battery. And why does everybody forget the Solectria which achieved a range of about 375 miles 13 years ago. Here is an old news item: “The 210-mile Boston-Big Apple trip by the electric sedan developed by Solectria Corp. on Oct. 23 proved that battery-powered cars can withstand real-world conditions, a welcoming group of city and business officials said.”

    The generally accepted view of why Toyota discontinued the RAV4 Electric blames the nasty oil company Chevron. I am beginning to suspect an alternate possibility. By ruling out electric cars, Toyota foresaw the dominance it would achieve in hybrid cars. All vehicle manufactures know that there is more money to be made in gasoline vehicles. As the RAV4 Electric has proven electric vehicles are virtually trouble free and require little service. That is the most profitable part of the automobile business.

    Although better storage devices are undoubtedly on the way, we can easily build an electric car industry with the now well proven NiMH battery.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Anonymous, not that you need any validation of you opinion, I will anyway. Toyota tested their metal halide batteries until they thought releasing them in a car would not “eat” them “alive” on warranty issues. And on the second generation, they even improve the battery from the first generation. Now it is the third generation and they have improved the batteries again.

    I can still remember people telling me back in 2006 that I would be “eaten alive” cost wise by being forced to buy a new battery for $10K to $15K for our Prius every two or three years. Well, folks, it did not happen. And it did not happen for a lot of people. And now the cost for replacing a battery through the dealership after warranty runs out (the most expensive way) is presently under $4K. If one replaces it themselves, they may find a battery on the market for $500. Where are these naysayers now?

    Now it is nearing time to produce an electric car. Toyota is going to make sure again that they are not “eaten alive” on battery warranty issues. Meanwhile, GM started three years ago to build a serial hybrid (an electric car with a reserve generator) without a battery to even run the Volt in sight (I’m willing to bet GM managers were really sweating that one out). Now they are going to release the Volt to the public probably late this year without really knowing whether or not the mass production battery will really survive the real world warranty time period. And even if the battery just survives the warranty time period, will most of the lithium batteries last as long as Toyota’s metal halides? Some generation one and two Prius batteries are 300,000+ miles and still going strong. What is the overall history of mass production lithium batteries for cars for the last one or two years (Tesla and Fisker are not mass production cars). ex-EV1 is right that one can buy a Tesla or a Fisker, but those cars are very expensive initially with the best expensive lithium batteries money can buy. Cost wise it is not the car for the masses.

    Toyota did their homework and is now reaping the profits from it. They mixed business with doing some good for the planet and became a winner. The competition now is chasing after them which is great flattery and good for the planet on the whole. And when they build their lithium EV, the competition had better be ready. They will have done their homework again.

  • Samie

    I share the same sediments that Jack Morrison & Alancamp said in their comments.

    It’s a question of when, not if Toyota will release a EV Prius.

    It all comes down to pricing w/c if we do see a Nissan Leaf around 24K we should not underestimate the potential for Nissan & the short-term EV market. Remember it takes time to build a brand name & also dedication to making real improvements in following generations of EVs. So Toyota is counting on battery recalls & Ford/Nissan to drop the ball w/ early EV’s (production issues & costs) before they jump in. Also again they are counting on the brand name of the Prius to makeup for lost time in the EV market when they come out w/ the Prius EV. Don’t read into what Doug Coleman says remember they want people buying the current gen of Prius not waiting a year or two to buy a EV. Despite lots of these great articles we should always remember there is a element of used car dealer syndrome from all car manufactures so take what they say w/ a bit of skepticism.

    Also will Ford or Nissan be willing to sell EV’s to consumers at a break even or small lose to gain a foot hold in the early EV market? Remember that Toyota did this same strategy w/ the Prius w/c by the way has helped Toyota w/ PR & has given them a positive image throughout their product-line. This is important beyond what you may think. If a car company looks innovative & not bland, investing in EV’s to gain market share & brand name can be important that is if Nissan or Ford wants to pick up market share & lead in this very competitive business. That is what I will be watching for in the next few years….

  • Bill

    Who want to take a 500 mile trip in an all electric car that take more than a 5 minute stop to refuel? The only way I see all electric cars ever replacing ICE cars is to use a modular battery pack that can be swapped out at a “gas” station in a very short amount of time. Plugging it in when you get home is all well and good but that alone isn’t enough. I believe Tesla is working on this for their 2nd generation model. But, unless a standard is developed so that all cars can pull into the same “gas” station the all electric car will be a failure.

  • Desrtstraw

    Stachel Paige gave good advice for Toyota “Don’t look back, somebody is catching up”. There is another player that few people are watching.

    “CODA claims that the CODA 4-door Sedan will be the first mainstream all-electric vehicle available in the United States that will provide the type of utility needed for normal day-to-day tasks.”

    “The CODA will get 90-100 miles in on a charge, depending on driving style. The car will be powered by a 33.8 kwh lithium-ion battery pack.”

    “Base price for the CODA sedan will be $45,000, but after State and Federal subsidies it should be closer to mid-$30,000s, putting it in the same ball-park as GM’s Chevy Volt.”

    “Other new investors; John Bryson, former chairman and chief executive officer of Edison International and Coda board member; Thomas “Mack” McLarty, Bill Clinton’s former Chief of Staff; Farallon Capital Management founder and partner Thomas F. Steyer; and, of course, Hank Paulson.”

  • Desertstraw

    And another challenger that Toyota can’t ignore, note the range:

    * AUGUST 22, 2009

    BYD to Sell Electric Car in U.S. Market Next Year


    XIAN, China — BYD Co., the Chinese auto maker part-owned by Warren Buffett’s company, is finalizing plans for an all-electric battery car that would be sold in the U.S. next year, ahead of the original schedule, Chairman Wang Chuanfu said.


    According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, the Warren Buffet-backed Chinese automaker BYD has moved up its plans to sell a fully electric car right here in the United States next year. Interestingly, the automaker had originally planned to sell its first products here in the U.S. in 2010 before delaying that projection by a year. The new announcement puts BYD back on track for its initial target of 2010 and, perhaps not coincidentally, in line with the launch of the new Nissan Leaf.

    The first vehicle BYD intends to launch in the States is the five-seat e6 crossover, with a price of just over $40,000. Details on the car’s launch are still slim at this point, but WSJ indicates it will be a limited to a few hundred vehicles in select markets. Expect the initial vehicles to go to “government agencies, utilities and maybe some celebrities,” according to BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu.

    Last we heard, the all-electric e6 was capable of accelerating to 100 km/h (62 mpg) in ten seconds with a maximum speed of 160 km/h (99 mph). Perhaps more importantly, the car’s range has been quoted at 300km (186 miles) on a full charge of its lithium ion battery pack.

  • McLovin

    Show the true price of gasoline if you want to compare on a level playing field – it’s many times higher than the price at the pump once all the hidden “taxes” are factored in; after that, reconsider your opinions.

    Many talk about the technology “not being here” yet, but I strongly disagree. It’s not that we lack the technology, but rather the scales of production that would bring the price of batteries down. Can you imagine how pricey an ICE would be if built in the same quantity that we currently build EV batteries? Astronomical, as in how much rocket motors cost!

    The whole charge time is a bit overblown as well, and is largely related to battery cost. Charge stations of the future will most likely store a great deal of energy on site so as to both level the grid load as well as being able to dump thousands of amps into an EV on demand.

    That means that we’ll be able to charge our EVs in minutes and eventually even faster than filling a tank with dinoresidue, plus offering utilities a medium-scale well controlled load leveling node on their grid.

    Last point, and I hope you people who harp on the location-shifted emissions argument understand it:

    “The greener the grid, the cleaner the car!”

    That’s the difference with an EV – you have so many options when it comes to energy supply.

  • jim s

    Toyota also said their little hybrid would just be a niche player for green tree huggers, now it’s sold over 1 .5 million and counting.

    As McLove said take the subsidies off oil and we have $11.51 a gallon for gas. The change would be weeks and electrics would be sold out.

    The new Nissan LEAF all electirc with over 100+ mile range on long lasting lithium batteries will allow my of us to vote with our next car purchase. Until then my 10Kw plug-in prius will just have to do.

  • DC

    There position was they built an amazeing 1st generation EV in the RAV4 EV, but now would like to pretend it never happend? What would a 2nd or 3rd Generation Rav4 EV or similar vehicles been capable of, we can only guess.

    Toyota is not yet ready to make the same bet on plug-ins. “If we had a technology that was ready today—if we had the battery at a performance and quality and durability and price point that we could put into a car and mass manufacture it for some market and both sustain our business and provide value to the customer—we’d do it,” said Coleman. “We’re trying to get to that point in the future.”

    What a pile of horse****, they had that battery over 10 years ago but rolled over and played dead for chevron. The key line here is “sustain our business”. I guess what that really means is sustain the oil-cartels business. None of this is about technology, but the auto-oil cartel has fooled a lot of people into belleiveing it is. Its simply about protecting a business model, nothing more.

  • Crut100

    I think Toyota’s position is PURELY business driven. It has nothing to do with what the consumer wants, it has to do with what will make them the most money (which is what a business is supposed to do). By waiting on the sidelines, Toyota lets GM, Ford, etc… pay the enormous prices for the batteries until production is scaled up. GM/Fore, etc… lose money on their cars for the first year or so, then Toyota comes in with a better priced car and makes money from day one. It’s a good business model. Don’t buy the PR crap coming from ANY large company – – they are ALL out to make a buck and they all spin info to make them look as good as possible. Toyota is just better as spinning than most.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    McLovin, your comment, “It’s not that we lack the technology, but rather the scales of production that would bring the price of batteries down” is probably very accurate.

    My associate, a battery engineer, has seen the data on the batteries tested by Chevy for the Volt. If the battery they have chosen can be mass produced properly, I will be very wrong with my earlier comments about what this lithium battery’s track record will be warranty wise. The chosen battery will more than likely be able to take over a thousand cycles of full charge to total depletion with no major adverse affects and survive fifteen years of use or shelf life. That is only if these batteries can be mass produced the way that the test batteries were produced and at an acceptable cost. My associate thinks Toyota may be looking at some different lithium technology like lithium silicone rather than the lithium iron phosphate for their batteries. According to My associate, such a battery could hold a charge of about ten times that of lithium iron phosphate, but has the problem of about five cycles of full charge to total depletion before degrading. Yet, if Toyota uses only the top 10% or 15% of the lithium silicone battery charge (no “to depletion” usage), that 10% could be more stored energy than the Chevy Volt’s lithium iron phosphate battery (16Kw) with no degradation to the battery. Now it would come down to size, cost, and producibility as McLovin has pointed out.

  • joe blow

    Toyota should get its head out of the sandbox

  • McLovin

    Lost Prius to wife: I’ve read about those silicon batteries – very exciting indeed. It would seem that some form of silicon/carbon/air + lithium battery will win, with possibly a new breed of ultracapacitors thrown in for good measure. No matter which way it goes, we have, at least, a base level of battery technology that now allows us to break that traditional bottleneck.

    My ebike (just a converted mountain bike) runs up to 50km/h – for when I feel like getting arrested – and travels about 40km using an Iron Phosphate lithium battery. The battery is small enough that hardly anyone even notices it’s an ebike, and the cycle life is at least 2000, so I will undoubtedly upgrade my battery chemistry to something even smaller and lighter way before it’s worn out. An electric car is just a bigger version of the same system my bike uses, so my last sentence would probably hold true for that vehicle type as well. How many gas cars can upgrade their fuel tank by a factor of 10?

    Crut100: Agreed. I drive a Camry Hybrid, but will not buy another Toyota (for at least my next car) due to the resentment I feel over their actions. Toyota, over all other manufacturers, has the ability to give us another EV this minute, yet they do not. Sorry Toyota, you just lost a customer – and all his friends who listen.

    I think all of us have a much more powerful say in shaping the world than using the idea of electing leadership trusted to carry out our collective vision. Every time we spend, we vote. The consumer can make or break a company much faster than any election cycle, so I’m going to plunk my tens-of-thousands with companies compatible with my vision. In this case Nissan, for taking a chance and instigating the now very close tipping point to EVs.

    Sorry… long rant.

  • Kilotonne

    I would take Toyota’s word over Nissan’s or GM’s – Toyota has deployed the most successful electric propulsion system to date, so they have much more credibility than the rest of the wannabes, who can’t even make a decent hybrid. I simply don’t believe the hype coming from the repeat offenders like GM, the Germans, etc. For years they claimed they were going to kick Prius’ ugly butt in MPG, but they couldn’t. If they fail in something like hybrid, they will most certainly fail in trying to get in front of the technology. You simply don’t jump from nothing to something – developing an EV is an evolutionary process, with many untested and risky turns. Toyota today probably has more ideas about what an electric vehicle for the masses could be than all of the rest of the companies combined.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    McLovin, your opinions are hardly a “long rant”. If you really want to find some truly long rants, you will need to go through a lot of the old news to find the few that exist. In my opinion, they are infrequency on this site. Either that or I am too accommodating. And I wish one could put a picture on this site. I would love to see your bike.

    I will probably still buy a new Prius in the future to replace our aging ’94 Toyota Celica, but I may wait for the plug-in or see what they do produce for an EV. A plug-in Prius seems to make sense for my future needs at this time. But I will always be open to what other manufactures offer, especially if it would be better for my needs. Having lived for so long, I have a hard time saying “I will never …” or “I will always…” since it may mean that I will be eating “crow”.

  • McLovin

    Kilotonne: Nissan has vast experience with electric vehicles, so it’s not a case of nothing to something. They’ve admitted their mistakes and have a clear vision of the future, and are most unlike the arrogant, conservative megacorp Toyota. Remember, Toyota only created the Prius out of fear of GM producing a viable hybrid based on EV1 technology, otherwise they’d stick us with as ancient a technology as they could, as long as it maximized profit. GM could have built the Volt 15 years ago and taken the lead – so as happy as I was with Toyota for treading where GM saw diminishing profits, I am with Nissan for doing the same to Toyota now.

    Toyota already knows what we want. They built a viable EV many years ago, with their 90’s technology RAV4 EV still chugging away to this day, so I’m pretty sure they are just waiting for the footsoldiers like Tesla and Nissan to do all the hard work of getting the bleating masses to understand something new, then they’ll pounce. Very samurai… but I prefer to “support the troops” as they say.

    What happens to cars manufacturers when they sell a product that requires little maintenance, or spare parts, lasts for decades (carbon fibre models) if not longer, and is better than new when the battery is upgraded – remembering that battery prices are coming down in cost like computer parts did? They either change their business model to support a market geared to upgrades rather than new cars every 4 years, or they downsize to support a smaller new car market. Of course, this is decades away, as we haven’t even made the transition to EVs, but I’m sure the fear is there.

  • GeorgeSunshine

    Yeah, I don’t know why the author had to slam “Seasons in the Sun”. There were no “mute” buttons on car “audio systems” back then. There was a volume knob, a tuning knob and a little red pointer with 5 mechanical (pull out and push in to set) preset buttons.

  • sean t

    It’s a shame that you’re not one of Toyota’s executives . . .

    “Our outlook has never been to be the first to market. We want to be the best to market.”

    “We’re listening to all perspectives, but we’re making our own judgments based upon our own data and our own forecasts.”

    Vote by your dollars if you like.

  • Stephenie

    Toyots is cool and smart to boot. Government motors may sell a few thousand volts in their first couple of years. Maybe by 2012 people will be ready for plug-ins but not $40,000 ones.
    I’ll buy a Toyots but it will never be a plug-in match box

  • Charles Hall

    With this kind of thinking, how did they ever come up with the Prius? I don’t think there was any market demand when they began work on that project.

  • SEAN T


    Food for thoughts:


    I’m sure Toyota don’t want to be in this situation. Doesn’t look very pretty . . .

  • brighterplanet

    A large part of the “mainstream” public is probably ready for an electric vehicle – as long as it doesn’t fall short of the manufacturer’s hype. But from a purely environmental standpoint, our electric grid isn’t ready yet. Throughout most of the heartland so much of our power comes from coal that it’s actually greener to drive a gasoline-only hybrid than to charge your car from the garage outlet.


  • ex-EV1 driver

    An electric car run purely from coal generated electricity has about the same emissions (GHG, toxics, and particulates) as a Toyota Prius burning gasoline. You’ll find many studies, some put one ahead of the other but, overall, I’m pretty comfortable with the position that they are about the same today. I suspect that the numbers on your blog miss some of the upstream estimates for the Prius but, either way, even your Kansas numbers aren’t that far apart while the major population centers clearly favor the EV.
    This is because the electric motor, battery, and electrical distribution networks are extremely efficient while the Internal Combustion Engine and gasoline processing and transportation are very inefficient so there is a lot more energy wasted on the gasoline side.
    Since the electric vehicle’s emissions and ecological footprint only cleans up as the grid cleans up, it is a fine starting point today.
    Electric vehicles will only get a lot better as we migrate from coal to cleaner energy sources. Gas burners aren’t likely to get much better than the Prius. Do we wish to stay in this rut until affordable oil runs out?
    My solution is to push to get electric vehicles into production and on the road today (against the huge forces that oppose them), then, when this goal is achieved or in parallel, work on cleaning up the grid.

  • McLovin

    brighterplanet: I made a post at your blog. Go 100% electric and green the grid as fast as possible. I don’t understand the confusion over such a simple concept when it comes to the general public.

    There’s really no downside to doing this, even for the megacorps. Sure, they will not be able to pull an Enron on us as the power grid will more resemble the internet — with no off switch — and cars will last a great deal longer with minimal maintenance… but we’ll all be a heck of a lot richer for it, and consequently want to buy more bling. Maybe we’ll be rich enough to construct underground electric bullet trains connecting every major city, and run the whole issue on sunlight, transporting a former airline-centric populace into shinkansen-lovin troglodytes.

    Imagine boarding a train ferry-stlyle, in your car, and plugging in for a recharge during your 200 mph commute! Once the grid is 100% green, the options are endless. Let’s end this crazy era we are in as soon as possible. I look forward to a smart grid, smart cars, and a smarter public.

  • McLovin

    Lost Prius to wife:

    Sorry, just saw your comment.

    Here’s a link to a pic of my hotwheels. Note the continuously variable transmission in the rear (NuVinci CVT), as well as the custom lighting and computer up on the handles. I was lucky to come across that frame, new, as the company that made it has a very interesting EV history.


  • Lost Prius to wife

    Thanks for the info. We have a fair amount of bicyclers where I work that might be interested in this. There may be even more that would “bike” to work if they have something like this to assist them. Really nice looking.

  • Pizzaman

    Current lithium technology is at $1,000 a kwh. Therefore, an ev with significant range will need 30-50+ kwh and will cost at least $50k. This is why we need deep discharge A123 cells to maximize the value out of our batteries.

    Therefore, I would ideally think a plug in hybrid would be best with 5-8 kwh and then add a 15k base car and you have a 22k plug in hybrid with 20-40 miles.

    I think once the plug in hybrid technology is in some of the public’s hands, the appreciation for the all electric range will be much higher and we won’t have people getting angry over news articles stating a 40 mile range.

  • Phil Belmont

    Yawn. I wish there was a hybrid site that was not run by Toyota.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    Yawn, I wish someone other than Toyota would actually sell a complete line of serious hybrids.
    Until then, Mr. Belmont, any site about hybrids is going to have to look a lot like a Toyota fan club.
    Why don’t you go to your favorite non-Toyota manufacturer’s customer service line (http://www.pluginamerica.org/take-action-now/contact-automakers.html) and ask them to start making quality hybrids or plug-in vehicles in different vehicle types instead of complaining that you’re bored here?

  • McLovin


    From CNET:

    “The $43 million plant, south of Detroit, will assemble individual batteries from South Korea’s LG Chem Ltd. into 70,000 packs a year at full production for the Chevrolet Volt and other plug-in hybrids. Each pack will have 220 cells and is estimated to cost $8,000.”

    That’s $500/kWh today. Prices are dropping fast… Can you imagine how the equation will shift when we hit $100/kWh?

    I have a feeling that as soon as people get a taste of the “electric miles” part of the PHEV driving cycle, they’ll want more and more EV range, not just because of the very low operating cost, but the emotional impact of driving in pure electric mode. Those here who have had the fortune of introducing someone to their first EV will get what I mean when I say, “EV smile.”

  • joe pah

    Now I know why Toyota hits the mute button. They’ve earned the trust of the world’s consumers and aren’t about to compromise by selling a car that isn’t a good value or Toyota reliable.

    Anyone who thinks Lithium Polymer batteries are ready for general consumption hasn’t done their homework. There are all sorts of infant mortality issues, manufacturing problems, overheating and capacity issues if incorrectly charged, all of which can be resolved. I’m sure Toyota isn’t going to dump a half baked car on the public, like GM will.

    Remember how the corolla hit the market and how much more reliable and practical it was than any other economy car?

    Remember how Lexus drove all the American, German and British luxury manufacturers to make much more reliable cars that didn’t cost a $$$ to maintain?

    Mainstream America and Europe will be ready for PHEV or EV’s when Toyota is ready to sell it to us.

  • Lloyd Priddy

    I live in the Fort Worth-Dallas area in Texas and I would jump at an opportunity to purchase a solid all electric plug-in car with a 30 mile range and a trustworthy warranty, or an electric retrofit for one of my present cars with a reasonable warranty, or a plug-in hybrid electric. I would prefer a price that I could handle, rather than the Volt or Tesla price because of my financial situation.

    Electric vehicle enthusiasts do not all live in California! I own an electric bike with a 30 mile capability that I have used for over a year in my community, avoiding the use of my gasoline vehicles as much as possible. I would rather not spend any money on gasoline, whether it comes from terrorist territory or not. Whether our gas guzzlers contribute to global warming or not is not the issue as much as that we are grossly polluting the air that electric vehicles would not pollute. We need EVs NOW. Maybe hydrogen will get an opportunity way on down the road. But we are having to breathe that pollution that the auto makers could help us avoid by simply building enough EVs for the population to use TODAY. We used the bag phone before the present day cell phone came out. Why can’t we get an EV model that can get us started using EVs? The EV-1 would have been a good start if GM had advertised it nationwide like a regular car. The auto companies have a surprise awaiting them when they finally build the first EVs for public commuting. They will not have enough to go around. Electric vehicles will catch on like a fire!

  • J. R.

    I have two question.
    I live in NYC, where would I plug the vehicle in?
    How much would it cost me to recharge my battery?

  • John & Regina

    We have no interest in an all-electric vehicle at this time. The public charging infrastructure will likely be sparse for years to come. Simply doesn’t make sense to risk getting stranded if there’s no charging station near where we have to go………………. Instead, we plan to buy a plug-in hybrid. The all-electric range will be enough for our weekday commuting and errands, and the gas will be available for longer trips (mainly on weekends). The plug-in hybrid seems like a happy medium, and the better solution for most drivers over the next several years……………. Waiting with anticipation for the plug-in hybrid version of the Prius and the Ford Escape. Both will be assembled in the USA: Ford Escape in Kansas City MO, and Prius in Mississippi 🙂

  • John & Regina

    Kudos to Eric and Lloyd in Texas. You’re right, we’re tired of the implication that most electric-vehicle enthusiasts live in California. The GREAT majority of us live elsewhere. Cali’s a big place with an admirable level of support for non-ICE vehicles in the metro areas. But the rest of the country’s demand is underestimated. Car companies should stop their insulting obsession with California. Bring every model to market in the English-speaking States, as well 😉

  • tapra1

    Toyota’s product planners are listening to three radio broadcasts at the same time. The first program blasts a frenzied chorus of voices from the automotive press, political circles, electric car and clean energy enthusiast groups,jjwyy