Japanese car manufacturer Toyota may be seen as the hybrid car king, but it has openly called into question the viability of plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles.
According to Michael O'Brien, the company's US corporate manager, Toyota has key questions regarding market acceptance for the technology and who the target buyers might be. Speaking at the California Air Resources Board's (ARB) ZEV Technology Symposium in Sacramento, California, he said it is difficult to force technology adoption by customers and the current state of market readiness for plug-ins and electric vehicles presents serious challenges.
In particular he pinpointed concerns about mass production particularly given the issues that surround range, cost and charging times.
Tom Cackette, the ARB's chief deputy executive officer, believes that multiple technologies represent the way forward. He said that there is a need to avoid being tied to one technology as the industry is currently attached to petroleum, and while some may not be successful in the commercial marketplace it is important to have more than one.
According to O'Brien however, for vehicles to become true solutions to climate change and environmental challenges they must be mass market solutions such as the Toyota Prius. He believes hybrids have "passed the threshold" into the early mass market but having tested hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles Toyota has established that: NiMH batteries are the best choice for conventional hybrids; lithium-ion batteries will be required for electric vehicles and plug-ins but cost remains an issue and will not be offset by large scale mass production volumes; and there is a need for a battery beyond lithium-ion to meet broader expectations and societal goals.
At the same time he noted that Toyota's work on fuel cell technology has advanced rapidly and a recent test with a Highlander Fuel Cell Vehicle achieved a range of 431 miles on a single fill of compressed hydrogen – twice the fuel economy of an existing Highlander Hybrid. As such he said Toyota sees a "clear path to the commercial introduction of fuel cell vehicles by 2015".