Toyota Goes on the Offensive with Its Hybrids

Toyota is boosting production—and the image—of its star hybrid, the Toyota Prius. As the company celebrates big sales numbers for the just-released third-generation Prius in Japan, it is also fighting a publicity campaign in the US against competing green car technologies.

Bloomberg reports that Toyota will build as many as 50,000 Priuses a month in Japan—increasing its annual sales goal from 400,000 to 500,000 units. The Prius was the number one selling car in Japan in May, so the company is increasing production to make sure it can supply its two biggest hybrid markets: Japan and the United States. The company said it has received more than 140,000 orders in Japan. And with gas prices once again on the rise in the US—approaching $3 a gallon average in the Midwest—the company shouldn’t haven’t any worries about its dominant role in the hybrid market. Right?

Bashing Plug-Ins

If you consider the recent string of comments from Toyota executives bashing plug-in hybrids and electric cars—even though these vehicles will not be in dealerships for almost two years—it would appear that Toyota is, in fact, worrying about its hybrid leadership. The company apparently does not want the Prius, a conventional rather than a plug-in hybrid, to lose its halo.

Masatami Takimoto, an executive vice president in research and development, told the Washington Post that the batteries required for plug-in cars are not ready. Takimoto said, “Fundamental issues are unsolved.” Bill Reinert, US national manager for advanced technology, appearing at a National Academy of Sciences panel last month said the plug-in hybrid market will be limited. Reinert questions the real-world mileage for plug-in hybrids. “We can achieve 50 to 55 miles per gallon, but after that, there are diminishing returns,” he said. (The 2010 Toyota Prius has a EPA rating of 50 mpg.) Reinert characterized 100-mpg real-world performance as science fiction. Irv Miller, Toyota group vice president of corporate communications, says that the heavier battery pack required for plug-in hybrids becomes a “boat anchor” when they are depleted.

Miller’s recent comments echo his blog postings from two years ago, when he took aim at the most celebrated upcoming green car, the Chevrolet Volt. Miller wrote, “There are no automotive series hybrids in mass production that actually work. They simply don’t exist.”

Toyota is careful to call the Volt a series hybrid, while General Motors—waging its own high-stakes publicity campaign—distances itself from using the “H” word. In a lengthy story about GM’s Bob Lutz in this past Sunday’s Washington Post, the auto executive admitted that GM’s marketing department manufactured the term “extended range electric car” to describe the Volt. The term “extended range electric car” has been readily adopted by the media, even though the design—which uses an electric motor and gas engine—has been called a series hybrid for generations.

The duel between Toyota and GM reveals differences in how the two companies are approaching hybrids. Toyota has been selling parallel hybrids for a decade and is focused on steady, evolutionary improvement of its hybrid systems, incorporation of the technology across a wider range of products, and driving down the costs of hybrids. Meanwhile, General Motors is primarily concentrating both its engineering and marketing efforts on the revolutionary series hybrid architecture of one vehicle, the Chevy Volt.

The nuances of hybrid car technology are almost completely lost to the average car buyer. But expect those distinctions to be debated ad infinitum in an escalating battle of words between Toyota and General Motors. In the end, higher fuel efficiency standards and increasing worry about oil dependence and carbon emissions will force the entire auto industry to produce a wide range of gas-electric technologies—from micro and mild hybrids to full and plug-in hybrids—each taking its own relative share of the market. Despite the noise, it’s all good news for consumers seeking cutting-edge fuel-efficient alternatives.


  • slm

    The Prius and Volt are both confusing to me as a green solution. Conventional gas vehicles will not be going away, but the commuter car will quickly transition to all-electric. All other arguments aside, why would you double the complexity of the drive train by putting a gas engine and electric motor together. Buy an all-electric car for daily commutes and keep a fuel efficient gas car for longer trips. Two cars, two motors…not two cars, three motors.

  • Samie

    Good story as always

    Funny war of words, so here it is Toyota is increasing their marketing and production of the Prius, They want consumers who are thinking about buying a Prius/Lexis Prius not to be tempted to wait for the Volt to come out. The Volt will come online in the middle of the Prius production cycle, before the next generation comes to market. I would say GM has to play it smart and not use the Volt like that dumb Chevy SSR vehicle as a showroom model only, for the first few years of production and annoying consumers with an option to pay to be on a Volt dealership waiting list.

    Most comments will be love Toyota’s or love GM’s hybrid strategies but all guesses would indicate that Toyota IS working on a serial hybrid vehicle right now and letting others workout the kinks before they jump into that market but as of now they are worried about losing some of the “buzz” that surrounds their hybrid products as Honda, GM & Ford improve on the overall alternative choices in the hybrid markets. One last note GM, at the time of the Volt release should have a low 20k hybrid sedan to compete in that hybrid market, guess is they won’t but any Volt excitement needs to be carried into a full product line that provides better hybrid choices.

  • Carl

    Toyota is right, it’s about the batteries stupid.

    The Prius does not need much of a battery.

  • tw8s

    “General Motors is primarily concentrating… [on] one vehicle, the Chevy Volt.” Seems a strange statement to make in light of recent history. Who knows what GM will be ABLE to concentrate on after they pull up their pants and get back to work?
    GM has already built and sold, in small numbers, hybrids that could provide a big benefit to US oil consumption. The 5mpg shift from 15 to 20 of the hybrid Tahoe and Silverado saves TWICE the gas of the 15mpg shift from 35 to 50 for Yaris vs Prius.

    @slim: Electric commuter cars may be coming, but you can get nearly all the benefits of your two vehicle proposal today with a single Prius or Honda Insight. Depending on the ratio of commute vs road trip miles per year, your total pollution contribution can be less with the hybrid. My Prius mileage drops to 44-46mpg on road trips in the southwest, e.g.500 miles on I10 from Tucson to LA. There are few, if any, non-hybrid cars that will get mileage that good on a similar trip.

  • none

    Amazing…Toyota has RAV4′s with 100,000 miles and around 100 mile range battery packs from years ago and the battery is still not ready?

    Toyota…Moving Backwards…

  • kerry bradshaw

    I have calculated the commuting mileage to be expected from the 40 mile electric range Chevy Volt (40 miles electric range and 50 MPG while usingthe range extender gas engine) if the entire US
    commuter fleet drove the Chevty. This is easily accomplished by using the DOT’s commuter statistics for US commuters. The calculations show that the Volt would average 250 MPG across all US commuters. There are no statistics of non-commuting trips for US drivers, but making a few logical estimates (since we know that roughly 50% of gas consumption is used for commuting) I
    confidently estimate that the Volt would achieve a bit less than 230 MPG overall. If 1/3rd of commuters could recharge at work, the commuting MPG jumps to over 400, and if 1/2 to over 550 MPG. A fleet of Volts would eliminate between 90 and 98% of
    current private car gasoline consumption. A fleet of Prius cars would eliminate roughly 40% of current usage. It would often be true that a commuter would eliminate 10 or 20 times more gasoline consumption driving a Volt than a Prius. The EPA has embarrassed itself by grappling with MPG estimates for the Volt when doing so, as a notice to consumers, makes zero sense. Every consumer will obtain different mileage from their Volt, because MPG for the Volt depends upon the person’s distribution of trips. Some Volt owners may achieve over 1000 MPG if they rarely need to engage the range extender engine. Those that are travelling salesmen and never recharge and only use gasoline would average the same as the Prius – around 50 MPG. Toyota’s Reinert is probably the most brainless dolt I have ever seen occupying a position of authority. I assume that his Toyota superiors don’t speak English and are unaware of how much of an ass he is making of himself. The original Ugly American, whose only aim in life seems to be to bash the clearly superior Chevy Volt. But the odd fact is that he is correct is claiming that the Volt won’t achieve 100 MPG – that’s right – it will be much closer to 250 MPG. I have the facts and the winning argument. Reinert can’t argue his way out of a wet paper bag and has the losing hand. I wonder if he’s even smart enough to know that?

  • Gerald Cherry

    Just to point out how clueless the ever-BS Reinert really is, note that his precious Prius is about to get massacred by two Volt-type BYDs from China , each of which costs less than the Prius and each of which looks a lot more attractive. Toyota and the village idiot Reinert won’t know what ht them.

  • DetroitGuy

    Gerald makes a great point. I think BYD knows batteries a little. Takimoto’s wrong, the battery technology’s here, and will get better. These mpg will happen with BYD and Volt plug-ins. I can’t wait for the Volt to come out.

  • DetroitGuy

    RKRB,
    If I drive an Obama Volt to work and back, 40 miles total, how much gas will I use in a week, assuming I charge it up when I get home?

  • Rsam

    RKRB,

    This hybrid premium payback talk is a load of BS. Does anyone if ask how long it will take your premium sound system to pay itself back? Or your leather seating, or the power sunroof, or any other option!!! People obviously want to save money on gas, but I think a growing number of people are more interested in consuming less. As long as the hybrid premium is within reason people will buy, and with a flood of new models on the way we will see what the threshold is.

  • Halo9x

    I think you are missing the point on the Volt. The Volt IS an electric car for 40 miles. FOr me that would let me go to work and back for 2 days. If I plugged it in each night, it would mean 0 gasoline usage for a whole week’s worth of driving. If you drive more than 40 miles then the gasoline engine recharges the battery and keeps you going for about 240 miles before having to refuel. However, the only thing driving the wheels is an electric motor. I like the idea and you Don’t have to have two separate cars.
    However, at $40,000 even with the tax break, it is going to be out of most people’s reach.
    So, driving a less expensive Prius may in fact be a better solution. On a recent trip my ’07 averaged 55 mpg and what I have learned is that hills actually gave me better mileage. The engine cut off on the down side and ran on electric recharging the battery. This saved considerable gas on my trip to and from San Antonio with Abilene as my starting point.
    You are correct, gasoline isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and probably not even in what’s left of my lifetime (I’m 59). So, the Prius and other gas/electric hybrids, I think, are going to be the vehicles that give US a chance of being energy independent. Assuming Congress will get their heads on straight and allow America to develop the oil reserves we know we have. There is no reason for us to be dependent on foreign oil or at least to the extent that we are. What’s stopping us is a bunch eco-nuts that want us all to live in caves.
    Nasa recently confirmed that global warming (or the lack of ) is in fact due to the Sun. Duh! A recent picture of the sun showed 0 sunspots and that is the reason we’re having some global cooling. Sunspots means the sun is burning hotter. It goes in cycles. So, global warming is nothing more than a hoax perpetrated by Al Gore (when are people going to stop getting their science from a washed up politician?) who is set to profit from the “solutions” to global warming.
    I hope that helped.

  • RKRB

    Let’s use a little math. Assume 12,000 miles per year and fuel at $3/gallon. If Toyota’s Prius gets 40 mpg (realistic) and Obama Motors Corporation’s Volt gets 80 mpg (speculative), then the Volt will save $450 per year. If OMC sells the Volt for around $40,000 and Toyota sells the Prius for around $30,000, that’s $10,000/$450 = 22 years for the payback. Figure it out using whatever figures you want, but it doesn’t look good for OMC if they keep the price high enough to get out of bankruptcy (although that’s not such a problem now that they seem to have an unlimited funding source and no longer need to pay their bondholders).

    The Prius is a known quantity, and it’s generally been exceptionally reliable. After looking at past first-year dependability records for cars introduced by GM, buying a first-year car from OM may not be such a great idea, and whatever figures you use for the BYD, make sure you factor in the cost of extra life insurance (who knows what the safety or reliability will be, or how warm the batteries will get).

    You can talk about intangibles like battery life all you want but numbers are hard data.

  • Itman

    In place, where I live you pay just $200/mo for parking and $100-130/mo for insurance. Another car means at least additionally three hundreds dollars not counting maintenance. And two cars are indeed more expensive than a single gas-electric hybrid.

  • Itman

    I could not agree more. It can be easily calculated by everyone. He says you have to drag 300 pounds of batteries. Now you carry 100. That is 200 extra or less than 8 percent of vehicle weight. How much does it affect your mileage? It is less than 2 additional passengers. I bet, it will be about the same mileage or 5 mpg less. If you now getting 50 (the current Prius), that will be 45 in the very least.
    Then, image a guy who drives at least 50% all electric. How much will the mileage be? 90 mpg. And many people commute at most 30 miles every day and travel long distances once a month. They will be electric at least 80% of the time! Which gives you 200 mpg. People need to do math from time to time.

  • Samie

    To calculate savings in fuel or other driving costs are silly and missing the point, do you justify driving expenses when you drive a BMW? No its not about functionality but merely perks and status. Status is what, at first could make the Volt popular. I assume most of us will not be able to afford the 40k plus price tag but perhaps some will, and it may become trendy to be one of the first to own this car. Lots of older established folks drive the Prius but as more baby boomers retire they may fall in love w/ the concept of the Volt. Along with that crowd you may have well to do folks who may want to look at the Volt before buying a Lexus, due to the status and excitement of being the first to drive a mass produced serial hybrid.

    Most comments on this story don’t get it! It’s a war of marketing, PR. Most here again can’t afford a Volt but some will (for status) and that’s what Toyota is scared of. It may have been between 1-2 years ago but in a questionnaire given to avg. American’s about hybrids, a majority identified the Prius as a hybrid vehicle and some could not identify any other car model or car company who made hybrids besides Toyota. That kind a brand power is what every company would love to achieve, and that’s what Toyota wants to protect. That’s the point of the story!

  • Paul Beerkens

    To add to Halo9x comments. NASA also confirmed that the world in fact is flat and is indeed the center of the universe. Even more amazing it tuns out that a person called Halo9x is the exact center of the universe and therefor everything he and his employers say is true.

  • jak

    Toyota’s comments are interesting. I’ve been driving a plug-in 2008 Prius converted to the Hymotion L5. I’m currently getting 118 mpg. I’d hardly call that science fiction. :-)

  • Itman

    Sammie,
    Don’t advocate for everybody. BMW is not only a status car. It is also fun to drive. Some people indeed drive this car for status, but in a different way: that is to show how they care about environment. In that, it matters how much fuel (and environment) it saves. These people will also argue about foreign oil dependency.
    Toyota, on the other hand, is not getting its ROI and does not want to invest much in plugins. Therefore, all this shit about hydrogen (which is even father away than lithium plugins) and low plugins efficiency. The better for US auto-industry. Volt and other plugin can be produced in US too.

  • Itman

    Sammie, I meant some people indeed drive BMW for status, as those that drive Prius, but those who drive Prius for status, it is more a status of a treehugger. Futher, see my previuos comment.

  • David

    And yet I haven’t heard how the Law of Unintended Consequences will hit so hard..

    Let’s have a rosy prediction of gobs and gobs of Volts and Prii (?) selling like hotcakes in 2012 – hybrids from all manufacturers are flying out of the showrooms. The cash-for-clunkers program is a HUGE success. People are saving money hand-over-fist by driving their plug-in hybrids almost exclusively on electricity from the grid – and the new wind farms and solar plants are being built as fast as possible to keep up with demand…

    BUT….

    Revenues from gas taxes plummet. Suddenly the Highway Fund is in more trouble and is more insolvent than ever. Whereas gas taxes used to provide MOST of the cash, now Americans are using so little gasoline that gas stations are closing by the dozens and revenues from gas taxes are a fraction of their former selves – all while Americans continue to drive almost as much as before.

    I hope a Volt is available as an option for me when it’s time for a new car – don’t get me wrong.

    But I wonder where the money will come from to make up the difference when gas consumption goes down. Yeah, we’ll save money like crazy so long as so many other people have yet to switch to more-electric-than-gas. But what happens as (and after) we transition?

  • RSbaker

    For all who are unfamiliar with the Volt, it is indeed and Extended Range Electric Vehicle and Not a convetional Hybrid. That is to say, it is an electric car with drive wheels driven by and electric motor only powered by lithium batteries. The “Extended Range” part of the name refers to the small 1.8 Liter Gasoline engine which is used only to generate electricity when the Battery charge has been depleted. This will alleviate the “Range Anxiety” of previous electric vehicles. GM says the 2011Chevy Volt and 2012 Opel Ampera and possible future Cadillac Converj will be capable of 40+ miles of “electric only” driving range, then when the battery charge is depleted, the small Gasoline Engine will automatically come on to provide electricity to the electric motor for as long as needed or until the battery is recharged using your 110v or 220v home electrical outlet. GM says that 70% of Americans drive less than 40 miles/day to and from work and around town. This will allow the owners of a Volt to actually go weeks and months without using any Gasoline at all as long as they recharge every night. The Volt will recharge from 110v outlet in about 6 hours, and about 3 hours from a 220v outlet. The Volt is also equipped with Regenerative Braking which allows the battery to be recharged when the brakes are applied or when the car is coasting. This will also extend the electric only range. GM has been testing Volt prototypes or “Mules” for more than a year and on June 1, 2009, assembly of the first full “Integration Volts” began. Integration cars are preproduction test cars that have everything on them that the final production Volt will have. On June 9, 2009 the first of these cars was completed. An article and photos can be seen at: http://gm-volt.com/ . I for one think Toyota may have missed the boat on this one.

  • Samie

    One last thought on this topic, plugin Volt types will be needed in the next 10-20yrs as the driving and charging ranges for batteries in EV’s are improved. I would not say that Toyota is not investing in plug-ins/extended range hybrids, but merely taking a backseat right now to let others workout the kinks. A history lesson I guess is that Toyota should not dismiss the Volt, becasue it is a bridge to pure EV’s and Toyota could lose ground as did GM when they dismissed full hybrid technology in the 1990′s. Toyota won’t do this and right now they just want to retain their brand name in the hybrid market.

  • Xiaowei1

    As stated, the volt will be an all electric driven vehicle, with a generator to produce extra electricity (once the battery is depleted to approximately 30% charge). you will always be driving on electricity. conceptually there is nothing complicated about this approach.

    The idea of driving 40 miles on electricity stored in a battery alone and then electricity from a generator is extremely appealing as the infrastructure is there for both technologies.

    Mr Reinert has spouted what he is told to say. it is clearly obvious the Volt addresses the range anxiety of plug in electric cars and he has good reason to worry. Once production is ramped up and scales of economy come into play, the Volt will fall in price and start competing with the Prius more directly.

    I can’t wait to trade in my Prius for a Volt. i will be first in line; not just because it reduces oil consumption and reliance of same from overseas, but more so because this will help reduce smog/pollution as a whole.

  • sean t

    I don’t think Toyota do not invest in electric car. They have FT-EV, although small, a full electric car. They just need to test it thoroughly, make it bigger, more practical, etc.

  • usbseawolf2000

    I can understand “knee jerk” reactions from a lot of EV and PHEV proponents.

    Here are the facts. None of the companies offering EV, PHEV or PHEV conversion has 10 years / 150,000 miles warranty on the battery pack, not even Tesla. That’s because the durability of Li-ion is not there yet. The price is also unrealistic to have potential to become a mainstream / mass produced vehicle.

    Toyota is in mass production business and they does not go after niche market. They saw potential for hybrids after Rav4 EV failure. Prius was born.

    The Volt sounds good in concept but if you think about it is another resource guzzler. Let me explain. Volt is perfect for those with exactly 40 miles range. Those with 50 miles range will use some gasoline, which is fine. How about those with 30, 20 or 10 miles range? Do they pay $5k to $15k extra to lug around the extra battery they don’t need? Sounds like SUV and truck now isn’t it? The same excuse of needing the extra room, utility, or range once in a while. So Americans would buy the biggest, most powerful, longest range they can afford.

    Battery is very expensive now and Japanese are focusing to use it as little as possible. To point out how much of the “Lithium guzzler” the Volt is, the Mitsubishi iMEV use half the energy per mile (125 Wh/mile) as the Volt. The point is that these is a price to pay for lugging around the generator.

    Prius PHEV will use the gas engine for hard acceleration, heating cabin, etc… so it will not be a dead weight. Even with that synergistic advantage in the design, Toyota is still concern about the price and durability of Li-ion. They are very conservative and by looking at their track record they have been rewarded with that approach.

  • Max Reid

    All they need to do is sell a Plugin Hybrid with 10 mile range.
    At 10 miles / day and 300 days / year, a vehicle can travel 3,000 miles / year which is 25 % of the average vehicles 12,000 miles / year.

    After all a 10 mile range battery will cost only 3 – 4 K and may weigh only 30 – 40 lbs.

    Initially it will be slow charged in the home’s garage, later office parking lots may offer slow charge facility.

    This will ensure that the power plants are fully utilized 24 hours / day.

  • richard HEALER

    I JUST HAD TO REPLACE MY HONDA HYBRID MAIN BATTERY FOR $3000.00 AND NOW HAVE ONLY A WARRANTY FOR 12 MONTHS OR 12000 MILES. WHAT A BARGIN THAT IS. NEVADA EATS UP BATTERIES. NO ONE TALKS ABOUT THAT 1111 IT LASTED ONLY 6 YRS. ONLY 2 TIMES LONGER THAN THE REGULAR BATTERY. ANY PRESENT TYPE OF BATTERY WILL NOT LAST HERE.

  • simon@aus

    But it is still a series hybrid – technically, I mean.
    Calling it a range extended vehicle was something I didnt pick up on untill just now. It does make clearer, the notion that the car is designed primarily to be battery powered. After the battery juice is gone, you might as well drive home slowly – your on ‘range extended’ mode. A bit like not having a full sized spare tyre: if your primary tyre blows, and you put on the weight saver – just drive home.

    In Australia I think we do drive more than 40 miles quite often

  • sean t

    Good post, usbseawolf2000.

  • usbseawolf2000

    Richard Healer,

    Which Honda hybrid do you have? Does it has a manual transmission or CVT?

  • Itman

    Simon,
    It is indeed a series hybrid. Extended range vehicle is a marktingees coming from General Motors. When the battery is below x percent, the engine kicks and rotate the generator. The electric current is going directly to the wheels. In parallel, it also charages the battery making sure it is being charged on the level around x percent and has enough energy to help the gasoline engine. This is needed because the gasoline engine is not powerful enough to accelerate the car properly. It is a silly idea to say that the generator only charges the battery, which feeds the wheels. Because it is simply not efficient.

  • Shines

    I think a lot of folks including the author of the article are missing the point that Toyota is saying. Right now – now – PHEV or PEV is not really worth it. Right now the only highway drivable pev is the $100000+ Tesla. Right now its batteries will cost $36000 to replace after 7 years. $36000 / 10 (dollars a gallon) = 3600 gallons X 50 (miles a gallon in a Prius) = 180000 miles. That is a huge difference in miles and that’s at $10.00 a gallon. If by the time the Volt arrives next year the Lithium ion (or any newer technology) becomes more viable I am sure Toyota (and Honda and Ford) will be jumping on the bandwagon with plug ins of their HEVs. And like the Ford Fusion hybrid which can go for several miles in electric only mode already, the parallels may be able to adjust the battery only range and performance to achieve 40 miles in electric before the gas engine kicks in. I am not saying anything bad about the Volt here. When it arrives it may be the best choice for many drivers. But right now it looks like Ford, Toyota and Honda are offering the most reasonable fuel efficient choices.

  • Itman

    I think a lot of folks including the author of the article are missing the point that Toyota is saying. Right now – now – PHEV or PEV is not really worth it.
    I thought that Toyota was always looking into the future. That is why they started producing hybrids (in 1998) when the gas prices were $1 per gallon in US and $2 per gallon in Japan and Europe.
    It looks like Toyota is not that progressive any more. Pity.

  • ilikflhyb

    What Chevy Volt? When? Will it be any good? It’s all just talk, man.

    Toyota has been selling the Prius, successfully since 1997 in Japan. It is the best selling hybrid ever. I’ve driven a 2009 for about 10 months, and it is fairly good. Needs more power and I had to remount the seat for long legs.

    The 2010 Prius has 24 more HP and much, much better front seats, really good.

    Anyone here (in their right mind) think the all-new Prius will not be the most common hybrid from here forward?

    Doesn’t matter what people say or surmise, the all-new Prius will be the most successful hybrid and will surpass the Gen2 by far. Like it or not, it’s here folks.

  • ilikflhyb

    One more minor thing to add ….

    The 2010 Prius is actually for sale …. now …. I test drove one. Yes, it’s a little like an ‘appliance’ and has maybe numb steering or doesn’t cut up the corners like a sport car, but does the average driver care in urban traffic anyway? No.

    So, the minority will spring for sporty cars.

    Again, the 2010 Prius has been selling in the SF Bay Area since 5/28/09. It’s not some Volt that might go on sale end of the calender year 2010. Sad to say, but that seems to be the case.

  • tapra1

    As the company celebrates big sales numbers for the just-released third-generation Prius in Japan, it is also fighting a publicity campaign in the US against competing green car technologies.Top Web Hosting