Bill Reinert, national manager advanced technology vehicles for Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Inc., is a bit of a showman. As we heard in the morning sessions of Toyota's Sustainable Mobility Seminar, the world's got a lot of problems to deal with right now.The afternoon sessions were dedicated to Toyota representatives explaining how Toyota is thinking and responding to these problems. Since the issues are waaaay to big for one company or person or government to do anything about, so don't expect to hear that Toyota's about to release the flying car that eats CO2 as it moves. Still, in the hands of a guy like Reinert, at least the road to trouble is paved with a few laughs (listen to the audio to get the full flavor).

A lot of Reniert's introduction could be applied to any major auto manufacturer: it's hard to gauge where the market will be in four or five years (the amount of time it takes to bring new models to market), government regulations mandate all sorts of changes that aren't always easy to enact, and Toyota isn't in charge of the fuel supply. They know what they want to be there, but it's not up to them. As he pointed out, there is no 10,000 psi hydrogen station in the U.S. operating today (the one in Irvine has closed).

There much more after the jump.

As if loooking for a fight, Reniert said the parallel hybrid setup of the Prius is more practical on a day-to-day basis than the series hybrid system in the Volt. There are pros and cons to each technology, and Reniert said he wasn't here to criticize any company that chooses the one that Toyota didn't. Actually, he said, yes, I am, and then brought up a chart that shows the Toyota mindset today. Considering that, in Reniert's words, Toyota's got about a four second supply of Priuses in the pipeline, their thoughts on the matter shouldn't be discounted.

So, what are the downsides of a plug-in Prius? Well, there is no guarantee that the customers will actually charge at night, and the studies that Toyota is doing with UC Davis of customer behavior have found that most customers are "opportunistic chargers," and will take advantage of every open plug in order to maximize the use of the battery. Makes sense, right? You have a car that can run for X miles on battery power and, if you drive X-5 miles to work, you naturally want to charge up while you're in the office. Also, a PHEV Prius might lose the fold-down rear seats because the huge battery would take up that space. So there's a lot to learn about plug-in vehicle driver behavior – and a lot to teach – before it makes complete sense to move everyone to a PHEV lifestyle. Oh, and check out this chart that shows the well-to-wheel CO2 emissions based on which country you plug the car into.

Still, Toyota is taking a look at pretty much every angle. We've all heard the number that Toyota spends $1 million an hour on research and development, and a lot of that money is on lithium-ion battery technology. But, three months ago, Toyota opened up a "beyond lithium" battery research laboratory. Wouldn't mind a tour of that.

Back to reality.

Chris Tinto, VP of technical and regulatory affairs, safety, TMNA gave an update to Toyota's work on ITS (intelligent transportation systems). The cornucopia of pre-crash, active and passive safety systems was impressive, but not exaclty related to sustainability in the environmental sense. Still, ITMC, the integrated safety management concept that updates all of the things like millimeter wave radar and driver drowsiness cameras into one ITS Safety system is cool. Tinto said that autonomous systems have a lot of potential to avoid dangers in the front of the car, but it's only the cooperative communication systems that develop a type of clairvoyance that alerts the driver to things she can't see. Many of the large automakers are working together to get the grid and the vehicles on the road to talk to each other (see these slides - 1, 2 - for more information on that). As we're written before, the fuel efficient side of all this vehicle-to-whatever communication is the ability to increase traffic flow. Traffic jams mean lots of people getting 0 mpg (and, possibly, fines) and reducing congestion through telematics gives us all a boost.

Kevin Butt, general manager/chief environmental officer Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, came in for an update on how Toyota plants are cleaning up their act. With the increase in Toyota's overall footprint in North America, things like zero-landfill efforts go a log way. Toyota set up the Production Environment Committee in 1963, so it's not like the company is new to the green game. Butt said that Toyota looks at the regulatory requirements and sets its own goals at 80 percent of that. By holding themselves to a tighter standard than the rules say, they'll be able to catch themselves before government officials knock on the door.

Toyota asks its suppliers to reduce their environmental footprint, because if Toyota only focuses on in-house clean-up, they're just taking care of one spoke in the big wheel, Butt said. While European Toyota dealers (and all other dealers on the continent) are required to take old vehicles back from the owners at the end of the vehicle's life, in North America "we have a lot of dumps," Butt said. Still, Toyota tries to recycle old vehicles as often as possible. Even in manufacturing facilities, there are ways to increase efficiency, such as slimmer robots, running cars through the painting process door-to-door instead of front-to-back. Ninety-eight percent of Toyota's manufacturing facilities are literally zero-landfill and two Toyota plants – TMMMS in Mississippi and TMMAL in Alabama – will become two of Toyota's four Global Sustainable Plants. While Butt wasn't willing to give specifics, he did say that geothermal and solar additions are being talked about for these two plants. Thanks to the various efficiency improvements, Toyota's energy use is down 21 percent, CO2 emissions are down 20 percent and Toyota has saved $26 million.

You've got all of the details from Butt's charts in the gallery below.

The last speaker of the day was Tom Stricker, director of Technical & Regulatory Affairs – Environment, TMNA, who filled us in on U.S. federal regulations regarding fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. This might just be the most interesting clip to listen to for our readers, especially if you've had a hard time understanding the various rules and upcoming laws that automakers have to live under.

If you have had trouble understanding how the old and new CAFE standards, look at this chart, while you listen to the audio of Stricker's presentation starting at around minute 9. There's an ironic twist to the new standards whereby even if customers move from larger to smaller vehicles in response to high gas prices, the resulting shift in overall CO2 emissions won't necessarily help the manufacturer meet their obligations because smaller doesn't necessarily mean better.

According to Stricker, each new model in the next decade or so will need, on average, to be 22 percent more efficient in order to meet NHTSA's proposed four percent CAFE increase – or, you would need to make major improvement each year (compared to the very minor improvements as happened in today's environment with a five-year new model cycle) at a much higher cost to reach the goals. Even though Toyota is well above the current CAFE averages, their new target will be based on the size of the vehicles it sells. This means that each manufacturer will be given its own target and, because of the type of vehicles that Toyota sells, its 2015 target will likely be around 40 mpg, Stricker said. Toyota will roll up its sleeves and do what it can to meet its target should NHTSA's number become the rule before the election (as they've said they will) by more widely employing hybrid powertrains, trying to sell a million hybrids a year and making other improvements in aspect like weight reduction. Increased sales would have a huge impact, Stricker said, adding that doubling the sales volume of the Prius would do more for Toyota's compliance with the new standards than doubling the mileage of the Prius if the sales numbers stayed the same. This is why that million-a-year number has been bandied about so often.

Also, as you're looking at these charts comparing Toyota's CAFE averages with the rest of the industry's, Stricker would like you to remember that the industry averages include date from Toyota's numbers, so the distinction between Toyota and its competitors is bigger than the graph suggests.

About the patchwork of federal and state regulations.Even in the states that have adopted California's fuel economy rules, this doesn't mean that Toyota needs to just create a better vehicle fleet to meet that standard. Because the sales mix is different in each state, the targets for improvement in each state are different. This variation can be as much as five miles per gallon and means, Stricker said, that there's really 17 fuel economy standards floating around. Stricker is not happy with this, and neither is Toyota as a whole. To hear it from Stricker himself, listen to the audio starting at minute 30 and read these three slides: 1, 2, 3. There is a public comment period between now and late November before the EPA decides on that waiver for California to put it's new standards into effect. It'll be something we'll be watching.

So, that's where Toyota stands today. While I'm fully aware of the absurdity of flying a bunch of people to Portland to talk about sustainability, there's a way to increase the efficiency of my trip. Basically, for every person who learns something from this series of posts – either by listening to the presentations, looking through the slides or just reading my recaps – then the overall carbon footprint is reduced. One person traveled, more than one learned. Hey, it's something, right?

Our travel and lodging for this media event was provided by the manufacturer.

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