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PLUG-IN PRIUS PLUGGING FORWARD

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010
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Toyota Motor Sales presented A Silicon Valley California Leadership Group three plug-in Prius hybrid cars on June 15, 2010.Plug-in_Prius

Toyota will ultimately loan 150 of the cars to organizations nationwide for the next 18 months to see how they perform on the road. The results will help Toyota spot any kinks in the plug-in Prius before it goes on sale in 2012. The leadership group, a public policy organization representing more than 300 of the valley’s top companies, got the first three.

An advanced technology manager for Toyota stated that the education and feedback will be invaluable to Toyota as the Company readies the  vehicle for market introduction.

The president of the leadership group, will drive one of the  three cars. It’s reported the gentleman commutes to work by bicycle, but will drive the Prius to business meetings and put his Volvo up for sale on Craigslist. He plans to drive the loaner for the next 18 months and then buy a plug-in Prius when they hit the market.

Like the regular Prius, the plug-in still uses gasoline. But it comes with a more powerful, lithium-ion battery pack that can be recharged at home or at work. With a full charge, the car will drive exclusively on electricity for 13 miles before the gasoline motor kicks in. The regular Prius will go exclusively on electricity for a half mile.

Toyota has had an off-and-on history with plug-in cars.

The company made an electric version of the Rav4 from 1997 to 2003. But for most of the past decade, its executives argued that hybrids were better suited to the mass market, having a greater range over  higher priced all-electric cars.

That attitude appears to be changing as Toyota’s Chairman announces more exciting cars with higher efficiencies. Toyota’s competitors are rushing forward with plug-in hybrids, such as General Motors’ Chevy Volt, and all-electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf.

As reported last month, Toyota announced a surprise deal with Tesla Motors of Palo Alto, which makes luxury electric sports cars. Sometime in the next two years, the two companies plan to create an electric car that Tesla’s chief executive described as a Toyota vehicle with a Tesla power train.

TOYOTA HYDROGEN FUEL CELL CAR, 2015, $50,000

Monday, May 10th, 2010
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Toyota’s first production hydrogen fuel cell car will be a sedan model with the range of a gasoline model, said a company executive last week.

It will be priced at roughly $50,000, and go on sale in 2015.toyota-fuel-cell-hybrid

That’s more expensive than upcoming electric vehicles like the 2011 Nissan Leaf, to be priced at $32,800, and the Chevy Volt, which hasn’t yet been priced but is expected to cost $40,000 or less. For both cars, a Federal tax credit of $7,500 helps offset the price

At a price of $50,000 (minus any applicable Federal and state tax incentives), the market for such a car would be “small,” said Toyota’s Yoshihiko Masuda. He also indicated that Toyota hoped to cover its production costs at that sale price, but declined to speculate on sales.

Cutting costs aggressively

Toyota’s 15 years of experience in developing hybrid-electric vehicles like its iconic Prius may have given it unparalleled experience in squeezing out costs from new propulsion technologies.

Indeed, Toyota says its cost to build a hydrogen fuel-cell car has fallen 90 percent in less than 10 years, from as high as $1 million apiece for early prototypes. To price that first production car at $50,000, it said, it would have to cut its current cost by half again.

It accomplished this by reducing the amount of platinum in the fuel cell and creating less expensive thin films for the cell, as well as more economical high-pressure tanks to hold the compressed hydrogen fuel.

Test fleets from GM, Honda

Many other carmakers have ongoing hydrogen vehicle programs, including General Motors, Daimler, and Honda, whose FCX Clarity model is the only hydrogen car in “volume” production today.

Honda has now leased almost two dozen FCX Clarities in the Los Angeles area, which currently has 10 hydrogen refueling stations. Many have gone to celebrities, including actors and politicians.

The largest hydrogen vehicle test program is GM’s “Project Driveway,” which numbers more than 100 Chevrolet Equinox crossovers converted to hydrogen fuel cells on the road. Other makers have smaller fleets of hydrogen vehicles as well.

Many of those makers have said they will offer fuel-cell vehicles for sale by 2015. BMW is reportedly developing a hydrogen hybrid Mini concept, following its experiments with the Hydrogen 7, whose combustion engine could burn either gasoline or hydrogen.

Two problems

Hydrogen may not be the “fuel of the future,” for two reasons. First, its “wells-to-wheels” carbon balance is highly suspect, because it takes an enormous amount of energy input to produce pure hydrogen from more complex molecules.

And second, the utter lack of a nationwide hydrogen fueling infrastructure–and the cost and legal challenges of creating one from scratch–have dimmed the prospects of hydrogen as a widespread vehicle fuel. Such a network would likely cost tens of billions of dollars.

DoE: EVs are the way

Electric vehicles, on the other hand, have at least the basic of a widespread “refueling” system in place already: the electric grid.

As EVs move closer to volume production, the U.S. Department of Energy has granted billions of dollars for EV research in its advanced technology vehicle loan program–but substantially cut funding for research into hydrogen vehicles.

Meanwhile, the latest hope for hydrogen fuel cells could lie in using them as self-contained power stations for office buildings and factories. There’s an Idea…