What is the future of automobile powertrains? Whether lithium-ion or hydrogen fuel cell, or simply more efficient engines, Toyota doesn’t seem to quick to jump on any one technology.
Considering its steps carefully, Toyota doesn’t seem to act as fast as other companies. On the other hand, the technology that Toyota brings to market are fairly durable. Taking a long-term view of things it probably the best course of action, if we look at some who may have taken things a little too fast, such as Fisker Automotive or Better Place.
For example, Toyota has held off on developing lithium-ion [Li-Ion] battery technology for its hybrid vehicle lineup, in spite of the fact that Li-Ion is more energy dense. A lithium-ion battery might fit into a space 30% smaller than the equivalent nickel-metal hydride [NiMH], but the problem is that Li-Ion can’t match NiMH for lifespan and durability. Toyota hasn’t been ignoring the technology, according to Koei Saga, senior managing officer of Toyota Drivetrain Research and Development, saying it is “a must” for future Toyota Prius Plug-In development.
In other advanced drivetrain developments, we already know that Toyota expects to have hydrogen fuel cell [HFC] vehicles in production by 2015, selling for between $50,000 and $100,000. Granted, that seems like a big range, but the 2007 prototypes were costing $1 million to make. Costs have come down since then, and Toyota expects costs to continue to drop. By 2020, Satoshi Ogiso, Toyota Motor Corporation managing officer overseeing alternative fuels, expects that hydrogen fuel cell vehicles might sell “closer to that of a plug-in hybrid vehicle, and cheaper than an electric vehicle.”
Toyota is also looking into larger Atkinson-Cycle engines, constant-velocity transmissions, and next-generation automatic transmissions, to increase fuel economy in conventional and hybrid vehicles, but doesn’t put much stock into the recent electric-vehicle boom.
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