• Aug 18, 2005

Irv Miller, Toyota's Group Vice President for Corporate Communications, recently responded to an email sent by the Yahoo Gridable Hybrids group. In it Miller makes clear Toyota's stance on the possibility of a plug-in Prius, which is to say there's not going to be one… at least directly from Toyota. Miller makes the point that, as everyone knows, an electric vehicle is only as clean as the source of the electricity it is using. If your part of the national grid is powered by coal your EV car might not be doing as much as you thought to reduce pollution. It's Toyota's position as well that batteries require further development to improve capacity, durability and cost, which Toyota doesn't expect to happen anytime soon. So for now you can pack up your extension cord and head on over to the nearest BP if you want to keep your Prius powered.



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  • 22 Comments
      • 9 Years Ago
      Joseph, When I dropped off my carpool buddy yesterday, I managed to get the Prius to go from stop to about 35 miles per hour on the level without having the gas engine kick in (making sure to not have anyone behind me - the progress was admittedly slow!) As I say, I've actually seen 45 on the level with electric only, but this is obviously with a good number of "bars" on the (big) battery indicator, and I've seen as high as 59 going down a slight hill. Let's remember though that the Prius was not intended to be an electric only car. It will provide wonderful experience for Toyota in relation to the hoped-for future hydrogen fuel-cell cars - if ever they show up (I'm dubious - I remember the "promises" of turbine cars in the 1960's when I was a kid, the "promises" of wankel, steam, stirling and other alternative engines in the 1970's). Maybe just maybe BMW has the right idea. Use hydrogen as a fuel in the proven piston engine (but please let's use hybrid power as well, to capture as much of the kinetic energy as possible). C'mon Toyota, Honda, Hyundai - build one to see what happens. Honda'd be the logical one to try it first - they build CNG Civics as well as hybrid Civics. Maybe we could get the hydrogen economy on the road (literally) without having to wait on the "possible" price feasibility of the fuel cell car. Not to be dramatic, but it may be that even our lives and our collective civilization depend upon it, since we obviously cannot rely upon oil, or oil supplying nations, for much longer.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Ah. The old "distraction" ploy like a magician's trick. Point out that plug-in's cause more enviromental damage than a Prius that's not pluggable. Uh,huh. Not buying it. If the issue was true, there would have been massive public outcries for power plants to become more efficient. But that's not a vehicle issue. Sorry, Toyota, Americans are not buying it (but we'll buy your vehicles and enthusiasts will continue to modify them.)
      • 9 Years Ago
      This demand for a plug-in option--certainly from what I've heard from people asking about this elsewhere--would seem to just be part-and-parcel of the confusion that consumers have that hybrids are "electric" cars, or are some sort of step along the path towards the demise of the evil internal combustion engine. Of course that's mistaken, if these systems actually work in wringing better efficiency out of the combustion engine then that just makes it that much harder for 'alternatives' to compete. Barring quantum leaps in battery technology--and nothing of the sort is within sight--the electric car is going nowhere. And given the state of the electrical grid('round here anyway) advocating transportation that's dependent upon that system seems just a tad bonkers. I wouldn't be suprise if in 10 years we see more people powering their homes WITH their cars than driving electric cars. The batteries in the Prius do not have enough capacity to run long enough electric-only for a useful distance relative to the time it would take to charge. And household solar? It would take days to charge it up enough to go a few miles. The only utility in a plug-in option is poseur value.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Anti-plug-in spokespeople have been touting the additional pollution that would be caused by having millions of cars charged by power grid. But, many experts in this area have stated that this is not necessarily the case, especially in states that are utilizing alternative power souces, such as wind and solar and natural gas. In these states, plug-ins can provide a clear emissions benefit. And, there is debate whether the emissions from millions of hybrids, which are very low already, is higher or lower than the emissions of powering plug-ins during off-peak hours. Haven't yet seen any figures on this from a reliable source. In regards to the batteries, Toyota states that it will be 3-5 years before lithium-ion batteries (the highest performing) are able to meet cost, durability and safety needs. Valence Technology already meets 2 of these 3. The issue of thermal run-away with traditional Li-ion batteries is not an issue with Valence batteries, as they're based on a phosphate cathode material. (But, they still retain the other benefits of Li-ion, such as energy density, cycling ability, longevity and lighter weight, according to Valence.) Reference LA Times article of July 17 and many others that can be found on www.calcars.com, a non-profit org. and an excellent resource on this topic.
      • 9 Years Ago
      You're right, Glenn - I was using the 20 MPH figure from what I had heard. Apparently Toyota's cut-off is about 35 MPH. http://www.greencarcongress.com/2004/12/turning_the_pri.html That makes sense, considering the recent hypermiler test of a Prius that ended up getting 110 MPG. During the test, the drivers tried to keep the speed between 30 and 40 MPH, which would indicate they were trying to work near that electric-only mode limit.
      • 9 Years Ago
      So, lets say your car has been parked for two weeks and you have to go city driving -where Prius excels- and the batteries are low, wouldn't it be wise to recharge them before going out so that you drive mostly on the electric motors?
      • 9 Years Ago
      Hi Diana I am admittedly no expert and Joseph has already gone through some interesting figures in this stream, but looking at the big picture tells me that moving air pollution from cities to the countryside (which is what electric powered cars do, whether pure electric or plug in hybrid) won't sit very well with many folks. For example, I could live in a city and make twice the money I do here in Traverse City, so could my wife, who is a Nurse. We choose to have a lower income because we treasure the fact that we live on 3 acres (2.5 acres being the minimum lot size in our rural county) and enjoy the sunsets from our picture window without looking at 900 other homes first - as well as being able to take our Newfoundland dog for walks & swims less than a couple miles away. Putting it bluntly, why should city folks put their pollution into our lives, as well as make twice the money we do, which enables them to live a more prosperous life, retire better, etc? No thanks! You chose to live in cities and have the advantages, why should you send all the disadvantages to others, i.e. your pollution? Here's a novel alternative, since I truly feel we need to "get off" the crack-habit of imported oil - we have tons of coal and we know it is possible to turn coal into gasoline which can be run in hybrid cars (mixed with ethanol, even) because South Africa do coal-sourced gasoline (50% of their domestic requirements) using US technology! This means instead of having to build hundreds more power stations to burn coal (dirty), the coal can be processed into gasoline by building a few processing plants and distributed in the gasoline distribution system. Furthermore, if you look at www.changingworldtech.com, Diana, you'll see that American ingenuity has also come up with a means of producing oil from garbage, offal and even sewage. We have plent of that! As it is, apparently we need to build more power stations in this country - let's not double the number required and increase our overall pollution by using electric cars. Now, if Toyota and Honda were to enable folks to plug in their hybrids using solar cells (i.e. while the car is sitting outside waiting for me to get out of work), that seems feasible. Just don't make it possible (using a specific plug type, and specific non-household voltage) to plug the dang thing easily into the grid!!!!
      • 9 Years Ago
      "Barring quantum leaps in battery technology--and nothing of the sort is within sight" Actually, there have been some pretty amazing developments in battery technology. For example, Toshiba will put out a lithium-ion battery next year which improves recharge times 60-fold -- recharging to 80% capacity in just one minute. So, the recharge time problem of electrics will probably be solved in the near future. Approaches like zinc air also radically increase the energy density of batteries. So, I would say that there's quite a number of large leaps in technology happening. "The batteries in the Prius do not have enough capacity to run long enough electric-only for a useful distance relative to the time it would take to charge." Seeing as the recharge would probably take place while people are sleeping, the absolute amount of time for recharging relative to "useful distance" (under a short daily commute usage scenario) wouldn't really be a problem. Again, I think the point of plug-ins is simply to extend the all-electric mode range of the Prius to lower the average amount of gasoline consumed over all miles driven. "And household solar? It would take days to charge it up enough to go a few miles." That's not really a logical statement -- it's all going to depend on the size of the home solar array and the insolation values for the location. Say you have a 4 x 4 meter space (roughly 12 x 12 feet) on your roof covered in photovoltaics and the efficiency of the panels is 12%. 1 m^2 will produce 120 watts, so 16 m^2 will produce 1.92 kW. A place like Los Angeles has an average insolation value of 5.62 (ie, average daily direct sunlight equivalent of 5.62 hours), so that 4 x 4 meter PV array would put out 10.79 kWh on average throughout one year. It takes 0.262 kWh to move a Prius in all-electric mode, so that 10.79 kWh could move it a little over 41 miles (which, coincidentally, is the average daily miles driven if one drives 15,000 miles per year). So, someone with a 20 mile one-way commute could theoretically do it without using gasoline. The only problem is that the stock Prius can only be in all-electric mode up to 20 MPH or so, so that limit would probably need to be modded. I also don't know what the energy consumption is in all-electric at any given speed - the Calcars people (and their advocates) just provide the average. In terms of cost, Real Goods sells a 123 watt panel that's about 1 m^2 for $600, so a 16 panel array would cost a little under $10,000, but a lot of states are providing large tax breaks and other subsidies to offset the costs of installing those kinds of systems. There's also system costs like inverters, intertie meters, etc. But even if there weren't cost offsets, assuming a 30 year lifespan for the panels, the panels would be $10,000 for 450,000 miles of driving, or 2.2 cents per mile -- equivalent to $1.22/gallon of gasoline.
      • 9 Years Ago
      "However, in my selfish way of thinking, my priority will be: what is cheaper for me? to charge the batteries at home paying electricity at grid prices? or using the engine and paying gas at today's pump prices?" Good question. Here's the answer. A new Prius can go 3.82 miles with 1 kWh of electricity in all-electric mode (acc'd to the Calcars folks who've developed some plug-in Priuses). The Prius has an EPA rating of 55 MPG. The national average gas price is $2.59 right now. So, to go 55 miles using gasoline will cost $2.59. Since it takes 14.4 kWh of electricity to go 55 miles, the electricity would need to cost 18.0 cents per kWh to be as expensive as the gasoline. The average residential price right now for electricity is 9.53 cents per kWh. The question then comes to the amortized cost of the additional batteries and associated additional hardware per mile. I'm not that familiar with those costs, but I did see one electric vehicle that had 25 lead acid batteries claiming a per mile cost of about 7 cents for those batteries. My limited understanding of the plug-in Priuses that have been developed is that they use far fewer batteries than that, but they're still experimenting with how many and what type. So I don't know what those battery costs would be per mile. Again, I think their thinking on this is that extending the all-electric range of the Prius would allow it to be a "zero emission" vehicle for those days when one doesn't rack up too many miles. The scenario being a home renewable energy system which would provide the electricity for the extra battery capacity, which would reduce the amount of gasoline needed on average per mile -- thus their claims of extraordinarily high MPG figures. But to get back to cost comparisons, gas is going to be 4.7 cents per mile and average electricity is 2.5 cents per mile. The question then is are the extra batteries more or less than 2.2 cents per mile. Of course, one could live in a place like Seattle and have super cheap electricity, which would change the cost equation. Hope that helps a bit. In any case, it's all garage hack stage type of work at this point, but it's an interesting angle to watch. Personally, I'm content with a normal Prius which gets 55 MPG -- far better than the 20 MPG average of any given personal vehicle on the road in the US today.
      • 9 Years Ago
      Hi Glenn, I agree completely that air pollution should not just be shifted from the cities to the country - we should work to eliminate it completely. We have the technology to clean up those coal plants, if only it was required! Also, making gasoline from coal is actually a pretty energy-intensive process, and would have similar pollution issues. Any alternative fuel strategy - be it biofuels, sewage-fuels, whatever - needs to be coupled with an improvement in fuel economy in order to be realistic. Plug-in hybrids offer this improvement in fuel economy by shifting some of the burden to the grid - which obviously has its own problems, but we can work to correct those over time. Initially, plug-ins would not require any new elecricity facilities because they'd likely be plugged in at night when there is existing spare capacity. I also worry a lot about climate change - and the carbon dioxide reductions are significant. Climate change will impact both cities and countryside. Plug-in hybrids have a lot of potential if they're done in concert with efforts to clean up our electricity production (and maybe even improve energy efficiency in our homes to help out!) Thanks for the thoughts...
      • 9 Years Ago
      Hi Glenn, I agree completely that air pollution should not just be shifted from the cities to the country - we should work to eliminate it completely. We have the technology to clean up those coal plants, if only it was required! Also, making gasoline from coal is actually a pretty energy-intensive process, and would have similar pollution issues. Any alternative fuel strategy - be it biofuels, sewage-fuels, whatever - needs to be coupled with an improvement in fuel economy in order to be realistic. Plug-in hybrids offer this improvement in fuel economy by shifting some of the burden to the grid - which obviously has its own problems, but we can work to correct those over time. Initially, plug-ins would not require any new elecricity facilities because they'd likely be plugged in at night when there is existing spare capacity. I also worry a lot about climate change - and the carbon dioxide reductions are significant. Climate change will impact both cities and countryside. Plug-in hybrids have a lot of potential if they're done in concert with efforts to clean up our electricity production (and maybe even improve energy efficiency in our homes to help out!) Thanks for the thoughts...
      • 9 Years Ago
      lol
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