New Toyota President Akio Toyoda (oldest son of 1982-1992 president Shoichiro Toyoda and grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda) didn't say much about advanced vehicles or powertrains but did position himself as a car enthusiast and race driver who intends to inject more excitement into his company's future products. He said Toyota would introduce a "fun and affordable sports car" and a (~$200K) Lexus supercar in the next several years.
Toyota Public Policy and Government/Industry Affairs Group VP Josephine "Jo" Cooper said, "It is more important than ever before that Washington and the auto industry work together and be serious about resolving our differences, which can lead to more sensible and effective policies." She added that Toyota "sees a clear path toward commercial introduction of a fuel cell vehicle by 2015" and will introduce a short-range urban commuter EV in 2012.
"In the 1990s," she reminded us, "we launched a retail version of our RAV4 EV to comply with a demonstration program required under California's Zero Emissions Vehicle mandate.... Our experience confirmed that three conditions must be satisfied before a new technology will be accepted by consumers: all technical problems MUST be resolved; the consumer and the market MUST be prepared; and regulatory policy MUST ALIGN with both these conditions.
There's more after the jump.
But, she recalled, "Retail customers were not prepared for the realities of cost and range limitations of the EV. Regulatory policy was ahead of the market. We now see a potential new market – albeit small – among younger buyers for that urban commuter vehicle. Hopefully, this time, government will let the market pull EV technology forward and support infrastructure development more effectively than it has in the past."
Cooper pointed out that it has taken 12 years to get conventional hybrids to nearly two percent of the market, while the President's goal of putting one million plug-in hybrids on U.S. roads by 2015 represents as much as 10 percent of all vehicles. The best way for government to support green technologies, she said, is to "provide greater consumer incentives, because creating demand spurs investment – not the other way around.... Above all, government should not pick winners and losers in the technology arena.... It will take monumental cooperation among all key players – automakers, energy providers, suppliers, labor unions, dealers, government, educators, NGOs, individuals and communities – to solve our transportation challenges."
In a third Toyota presentation, Advanced Powertrain Program Manager, Advanced Technology Vehicles, Justin Ward confirmed that Toyota will build short-range pure electrics but cautioned that longer-range EVs will be "very challenging" in terms of battery size, mass and cost. He sees urban EVs offering up to 50 miles of range as the best balance of package size, weight and affordability.
Ford Sustainability, Environment and Safety Engineering Group VP Sue Cischke discussed the President's proposed "Cap and Trade" program, under which the government would establish annual CO2 emissions allowances, or "caps" for every U.S. business. Those allowances, or "rights to emit" – worth serious money to those who need them for compliance – would be sold or traded (on Wall Street?) to other businesses. She also noted that the cost of reducing the 20 percent of U.S. CO2 output that the EPA attributes to light vehicles would be much higher than that for achieving much more substantial reductions from other sectors.
Cischke pointed out that Ford has doubled both its production and the number of models of hybrid vehicles and has announced "an aggressive strategy to bring four new electrified vehicles to market over the next three years." They include a battery electric Transit Connect commercial van in 2010, a battery electric Ford Focus small car in 2011 and next-generation hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles in 2012. "Overall," she said, "Ford has committed to $14 billion of investment in the development and deployment of new technologies over the next seven years."
Tom Stephens, GM's new Product Development Vice Chairman, said he wanted to focus on "where we're going from here," adding that Fritz is leading a culture change like GM has never seen before." He emphasized that GM will focus on a leaner line-up of vehicles for its four core brands, each designed to be best in class, and cited numerous award-winning GM vehicles introduced in recent years. But he conceded that, "We need to do more of it, do it more consistently, and do it more quickly." Then he announced that GM's first 2-mode plug-in hybrid would be an "all-new crossover vehicle for Buick" in 2011. (Because the proposed Buick compact crossover has since been canceled, I'm betting on a 2-Mode plug-in Cadillac SRX.)
Stephens also announced that Chevy Volt battery cell supplier LG Chem has been selected to supply lithium ion cells for this plug-in hybrid crossover as well, and that affiliate Compact Power will supply the completed packs. But GM plans to be building its own packs in the near future. "Next year," he said, "we'll open the first lithium ion battery pack manufacturing facility by a major automaker...right here in Michigan. And we've opened battery research labs, both in Warren and in Ann Arbor, in conjunction with the University of Michigan.
"It's really important to us to keep moving forward on electrification," he concluded. "The three key differences between electric and conventional vehicles are electric motors, power electronics and batteries, and we've brought all three in-house as core technologies." He added that, "GM's advanced technology strategy is to pursue multiple energy solutions," including electricity, alternate fuels and hydrogen. "At the top of our advanced propulsion technology chart is the hydrogen fuel cell, an area in which we've made great progress. Hydrogen holds the promise of ZERO – zero petroleum used, and zero tailpipe emissions."
"Vehicle electrification will be the next big milestone," echoed GM Executive Director, Global Vehicle Engineering, Hybrids, Electric Vehicles and Batteries, Bob Kruse in his presentation. "One day we will remember the Chevy Volt like we remember the [first] 1953 Corvette." He asserted that GM intends to lead the industry in design and development of vehicle-size batteries as well as electric motors, power electronics, electric steering and brakes and other key components that will be used by a wide variety of electrically driven vehicles.
"Success hinges on the ability of automakers to be forward-looking, developing innovative technologies and creating new partnerships," said Dave McCurdy, president and CEO of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers (AAM) – which represents VW, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, Porsche, Toyota, Mazda and other imports as well as the three Detroit automakers. But, he cautioned, "development and introduction of new technologies takes a decade or longer.... [and] technologies are only useful if consumers choose to buy them."
Mike Stanton, McCurdy's counterpart at the Association of International Automobile Manufacturers (AIAM), reminded that increased fuel efficiency will have the unintended consequence of less gas tax revenue. Also that increasing CAFE requirements will inevitably bring higher vehicle prices. "We know we'll have increased technology," he said. "We know we'll have increased cost. How are we going to sell the vehicles? The long-term solution has to be a national energy policy. Piecemeal measures addressing individual sectors won't get it done. We need to educate lawmakers and media on costs, lead times and long vision."
Award-winning automotive writer Gary Witzenburg has been writing about automobiles, auto people and the auto industry for 21 years. A former auto engineer, race driver and advanced technology vehicle development manager, his work has appeared in a wide variety of national magazines including The Robb Report, Playboy, Popular Mechanics, Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Autoweek and Automobile Quarterly and has authored eight automotive books. He is currently contributing regularly to Kelley Blue Book (www.kbb.com), AutoMedia.com, Ward's Auto World and Motor Trend's Truck Trend and is a North American Car and Truck of the Year juror.