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Plug-in Hybrids May Not Go Mainstream, Toyota Says 519

mattnyc99 writes "Honda's challenger to the Prius — the Insight hybrid that we discussed so lividly a month ago — got its official unveiling today at the Paris auto show, with insiders confirming it would be cheaper than the world's most popular 'green' car while still hitting the same fuel-efficiency range. But the hybrid-electric showdown comes in the midst of a sudden rethink by Toyota about plug-in hybrids. Apparently all the recent hype — over the production version of the Chevy Volt, plus Chrysler's new electric trio and even the cool new Pininfarina EV also unveiled today — has execs from the world's number one automaker, and alt-fuel experts, questioning how many people will really buy electric cars, whether people will really charge them at night to keep the grid clear, whether batteries will make them too expensive and more. "
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Plug-in Hybrids May Not Go Mainstream, Toyota Says

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  • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:14PM (#25238711) Homepage
    The grid can handle this. Millions of cars aren't going to be plugged in overnight. Yes, it takes years for a large power plant projects and big high-voltage lines to be planned, designed, and installed. It also takes years for a new car to become a significant percentage of cars on the road. When you consider that the economy is starting to squeeze people, its pretty clear that millions of people aren't going to run out and buy a new car just because its shiny.
  • Why so doubtful? (Score:3, Informative)

    by philspear ( 1142299 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:19PM (#25238783)

    These same american car companies seemed all too eager to give us bigger, less fuel efficient tanks while demand was high. Obviously, that was a fad that was unsustainable, but they kept churning them out. Here we have clear proof that people want more efficiency and at least to feel like they're driving green, yet car companies aren't convinced they should give us them? Why is that stopping them now? Surely they haven't learned their lesson to think long-term rather than "Everyone is buying this right now, if these trends continue forever, and they will, then WOO HOO!"

  • The reason these vehicles will never get adopted to the extent they should doesn't have anything to do with having to plug them in overnight, hell I'd venture to say many find that less of a nuissance than having to make a trip to the petrol pump.

    The real reason we won't be seeing a large scale adoption of these is that they're ugly. Why can't somebody just give us a green car that actually looks good?
    • by BigGar' ( 411008 )

      Well there's this one [], but its a tad pricey. It's all electric not a hybrid, but has a range of 220 miles on a single charge, and great performance, though pushing the pedal to the floor would reduce your range a tad.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )

        The Roadster mileage is now 244 miles/charge. A significant efficiency gain was had with the transmission fix (which really we beefing up the inverter and the motor).

    • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:31PM (#25238961) Homepage

      The chevy volt will fail because it will cost $50,000.00US by the time it's released. Only the rich eco-trendy will buy that car.

      If you want to get hybrids and eco friendly cars to be adopted widely you gotta get the price down to where it's dirt cheap. $19,000 is the MAX price for the low end model. They refuse to make a car like that so they only end up as curiosity toys for the rich.

      They gotta get the price way WAY down. two seaters that are tiny and hybrid are the answer. If you get a Smart fourtwo as a hybrid that get's 80-100mpg for $19,000 you will have a car that will out-sell any other car in history.

      Problem is, The car makers and the oil companies do not want that car to exist and will do what they can to keep it from existing. The current smart is one of the safest cars on the planet yet it was a uphill fight to get the thing in the USA and then they had to "add safety features" to a car that was already a 5 star crash rating car.

      add safety features? why? oh to make it more expensive... I see. They wanted to make sure that the masses would not go out and buy it in droves destroying sales of higher profit margin cars.

      If you make a cheap efficient small commuter car, everyone will buy one. I'd rather blow 12mpg on the weekend in my high power sports car on the back roads and clear highways than at 32mph stop and go, in 5 lanes wide traffic on 696 in detroit.

      people wont want to plug it in? oh come on, the populace is not THAT lazy.

      • You are living in some weird cynical fantasyland. Plug in hybrid cars are expensive because they are new technology. The factories to build them have to be built, we haven't spent enough time figuring out ways to keep individual unit costs down, and R&D costs haven't been amortized over long periods of selling millions of units as with standard ICE.

        The first electric cars will be expensive. Probably the only ones that will sell well will be expensive luxury cars, because the people who can afford to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Robotbeat ( 461248 )

        You're forgetting the "sweetener" that Congress just added to the financial bail-out, a tax credit that Congress is giving consumers for at least $2500 for plug-in hybrid capability, with an additional $417 per kwh capacity past 4 kwh (with a limit of $7500 for small vehicles, and much more on larger vehicles). This evens the playing field much more: []

        That means up to $7500 for a good plug-in vehicle. This is a big deal. It could t

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AgentPaper ( 968688 )

        5-star, as in NHTSA 5-star? That doesn't exactly make me feel warm and fuzzy. The NHTSA test only applies to two types of crash: a controlled head-on crash at 35 MPH, and a controlled perpendicular side-impact (T-bone) crash at 35 MPH. Neither of those have any bearing at all on crashes in the real world, which tend to be either offset or rollover (or both, when a car flips as the result of a lateral impact). IIHS, who actually issues crash test results that have some real world validity, said the Smar

  • and battery technology is still the most expensive and weakest link.

    Toyota is doing well (business wise) with its regular hybrids. It just does not make sense to try sell something that is self-competitive and confuses the market.

  • If Toyota don't build an plug in hybrid, someone else will. Like it or not, electric cars are the future. The combustion engines are not going to go away any time soon, but as soon as EV's become mainstream (in the next 5 years I think), two car households will have one ICE and one EV.

    One has to wonder what Toyota is thinking. The RAV4 EV which they discontinued and even tried to have destroyed was a perfectly fine vehicle, and many are still running today. I wish they would just re-introduce that vehic

  • I'm wondering if the vaporware of cars like the Volt and other plug-ins are starting to eat at the sales of current cars. I can think of a few well-off lefty people (yes, a tweed jacket wearing university dean among them) who used to be new-every-two people. But, now, they're staying tight in their 1st-gen Priuses, waiting for the next... something. CNG? Fuel-cell? Volt? Who knows.

    Everybody is starting to sense "the gasoline car has to go". All the automakers are working to get to the next option, and

  • 99% of my driving is within the range covered by a regular charge, and hell, I live in the sort of climate where I could throw a single solar panel on my roof and break even on the electricity for the year.

    It's all about the batteries though. The guy who invents a workable next-gen source of electricity (be it battery, capacitor, or fuel cell) is going to make Bill Gates look like a poor relative.

  • FUD (Score:5, Insightful)

    by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:24PM (#25238849) Journal

    why are automakers so irrationally risk averse! I understand making sound decisions, but damnit...the market was ready for electric plug-ins in the late 70' it's a no brainer!

    questioning how many people will really buy electric cars


    whether people will really charge them at night to keep the grid clear


    whether batteries will make them too expensive and more.


    If you build it, they will my podunk former GM factory town, everyone would own a prius if they could afford to get a new car (many working and middle class people can't afford ANY kind of new car, no matter what make/model)

    The people that can afford to buy a new car are buying Prius's in record numbers...a friend at the Toyota dealership (who helped my parents get their Prius) says they always order the maximum from Toyota and sell out before they hit the lot...for almost two years that's been the case

    Plugging in at night is just a logical progression, and from an automaker's perspective, a simple engineering isssue (professional engineers can easily handle redesigning a Prius to have plug-in capability)

    As far as added cost of batteries, the Prius my parents own now has more than sufficient battery power, all it needs is a plug-in...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bombula ( 670389 )

      Absolutely. I'm in Michigan now too and there's still a waiting list on the Prius at local dealers, despite the ramp up in production and delivery. Sooner or later the demand gap will close, but it may still be a while yet. As for plug-ins, I think the real proof will be in the pudding. There is no PBEV on the market right now from a major automaker. When there is, it'll change everything. GM's EV-1 was a huge hit in LA when I lived there in the late 90s, and consumers were furious when they stopped m

  • by compumike ( 454538 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:25PM (#25238863) Homepage

    When fuel prices got too high, interest in electric vehicles and alternative energy sources boomed, but simultaneously demand weakened. Now oil prices have come off ~30% from their highs, and suddenly EVs are not a totally obvious solution anymore? Duh... this is how the market it supposed to work. This means that electric vehicle companies are going to have to start competing on real merits and not just squishy fuzzy green feelings. And I hope that makes them stronger! But it's not the worst thing in the world if conventional gas-burning cars remain an acceptable/affordable thing for the time being.

    Learn electronics! Powerful microcontroller kits for the digital generation. []

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 )

      EVs don't compete on squishy green feelings. They compete on the fact that their maintenance costs are substantially less (no or small transmission; no ICE parts; motor, batteries, inverter are primary drivetrain components) and the cost to drive is around 2 cents/mile compared to 15 cents/mile for gasoline. The problem is that the playing field isn't level. Oil is subsidized in the US through heavy tax breaks to oil companies, and energy density in batteries is still low because not much R&D has been d

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sqrt(2) ( 786011 )

      Regular unleaded is still around $3.60/gl where I live. That doesn't sound like much of a drop off. An EV would still be a very attractive option for me and everyone else in the state of California. Also the longer gas remains "cheap" (in a relative way) the longer we will put off developing alternatives--and meanwhile the environment continues to be affected--so it is harmful if gas burning engines remain acceptable and affordable.

    • by Immostlyharmless ( 1311531 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:02PM (#25239325)
      This has 0 to do with the market and everything to do with the ELECTION. If gas was still $4.50 a gallon Obama would have way more than a 6 or 7 point lead over McCain. All last year and the beginning of this one we heard that prices were going up because of such a massive increase in demand and less supply, mostly due to the influence of the Chinese and Indians, it's pretty obvious, they aren't using any less, right? Last summer every time a hurricane even threatened the gulf, prices shot up 10-15 cents. There's been a gas shortage now in the southeast for several weeks because refineries were creamed and gas prices are *still* falling. Please, don't fool yourself into thinking this has ANYTHING to do with market forces at all.
  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:25PM (#25238873)

    As long as the charger comes with a simple timer I don't see why people wouldn't be willing to charge the car at night, especially if you're in an area that has different rates for different times of day. As for batteries being too expensive, that's probably true right now, but do they really think we'll still be using today's lithium ion batteries ten years from now?

    The cars being showcased today aren't the ones that are going to solve our energy problems. They are little more than prototype, proof of concept vehicles. That's why GM is only producing 10,000 volts the first year they are in production. Lets start producing them now and work out the issues that are bound to come up so that in 5 years we can begin producing them seriously. Or we can think like we always have and look one year out at a time, never bothering to invest in the future.

  • by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:36PM (#25239021)

    Brand loyalty is fleeting in the automotive industry.

    Toyota doesn't want to build a plug-in hybrid? Fine.

    My dad got invited to see the Jaguar Plug-in hybrid, which will run off the battery for 50 miles before burning any gas.

    Considering my dad has a 22 mile commute, he can't wait for this thing to hit the road.

    He doesn't know when it will become available, but he's already on the wait list. (Estimated price ~$80,000, by the way)

  • by MtViewGuy ( 197597 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:36PM (#25239023)

    ...there are serious issues with the pollution output from a diesel engine, even if you're using biodiesel fuel. Reducing the higher NOx gas output and the diesel particulates is a very expensive proposition, and just to make a diesel engine meet the EPA Tier 2 Bin 5 standard is expensive enough that you might as well buy a Toyota Prius or the new Honda Insight instead at pretty much the same price.

  • Toyota may be right. (Score:4, Informative)

    by fahrbot-bot ( 874524 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:40PM (#25239079)
    The Chevy Volt uses an IC engine to recharge the battery when necessary - like all other hybrids (though Chevy calls it a "range extender"). Plugging it in overnight simply pre-charges it. I guess that's a bit cleaner, but that would really depend on your local power plant. I don't know if pre-charging the battery via the grid is cheaper than using petrol on the go -- if not, why bother.

    Calling the car an electric w/range extender, rather than simply hybrid (or series-hybrid) is marketing speak.

    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:43PM (#25239869) Homepage

      The Chevy Volt uses an IC engine to recharge the battery when necessary - like all other hybrids (though Chevy calls it a "range extender").

      Calling the car an electric w/range extender, rather than simply hybrid (or series-hybrid) is marketing speak.

      I don't think that's fair. In all other hybrids (on the market in the US today), the ICE is connected to the transmission and provides power to the wheels directly, in concert with the battery. They will use the battery and ICE proportionally to drive the car based on the speed. At highway speeds, they only use the ICE to drive and don't use the batteries at all. The range of most hybrids on pure electric power would be very small, and is really only the case when accelerating from a stop. On any normal daily commute of even a short distance, you're burning gas.

      The big difference in the volt, whether you call it "electric w/ range extender" or "series hybrid", is that the ICE is not connected to the drive train at all. It is nothing but a gas generator to recharge the battery. Thus why I think it's fair to call it an electric car, because the motor is in fact pure electric, and the fact that so long as the battery has sufficient charge, the ICE will not turn on at all. Also it has some big practical advantages. The ICE can be made smaller, and can be optimized for its task and made to operate at only at its ideal RPM -- the Prius' CVT means it can operate in a narrower band, but it still varies as it has to increase power to the wheels to accelerate.

      So I think it's fair to call it an EV. If you're only doing a short commute each day, then that's absolutely true, since the car will drive on nothing but electric power. If you need to go farther, the generator kicks in, extending your range. It's not just marketing, it's correctly emphasizing the real practical advantages that differentiate it from a normal hybrid.

      Oh, and in most places, yes it is cheaper to use electricity from the grid instead of gas. Especially if you charge during off-peak hours.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by HairyCanary ( 688865 )

      IIRC the important difference is that when a series hybrid like the Volt has sufficient battery power, it is 100% electric. Doesn't a Prius have to use the gas engine for freeway speeds regardless of battery charge?

      Electric w/range extender is perfectly valid terminology IMO, since plenty of people will see 100% electric usage. With a plug-in parallel hybrid like the Prius, what driving parameters have to be met to keep it electric only?

  • by TheMiddleRoad ( 1153113 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:42PM (#25239113)

    My wife and I might not buy a Volt immediately because so many companies are entering the market, but we'll buy the best EV or PIH we can afford sometime around 2010-2011. Most of our trips are 10 miles round. Rarely do we go more than 40 round. In the future, we'll make those once or twice a week at most.

    So give me an EV for most of my trips, a PIH for the rest, and a Lotus Elise (30mph highway) for weekend blasts through the canyon.

  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:47PM (#25239181) Homepage

    Around the turn of the century, electric cars had a range of about forty miles... the same as the Chevy Volt. All the improvements in battery technology have been able to do no more than keep up with our expectations of automotive comfort and speed.

    Electric cars have, for a century, been waiting for the big breakthrough in battery technology that has yet to occur. The brilliance of the basic TRW design--the one they could never get U. S. carmakers interested in, the design that is fundamentally the same that Toyota uses in the Prius--is that it only relies on the battery as a short-term buffering device, a "torquer" as TRW called it, to make up the difference between the torque that can be provided by a little economical gas engine and the torque that's needed in normal driving.

    So, a Prius provides a very meaningful increase in fuel efficiency without demanding a battery made of unobtainium. The Prius battery in fact only stores about enough energy to drive the car for about a mile.

    Despite the possibility that Toyota is putting a spin on things, what they are saying makes sense. As hobbyists have confirmed, a Prius is virtually ready to be a plug-in hybrid, needing only a bigger battery. It would seemingly be so easy for Toyota to compete in the plug-in hybrid market that I have to believe they have sound reasons for skepticism.

    Another possibility is that Toyota has encountered some serious snags that they're not talking about in trying to produce a plug-in version of the Prius. Perhaps GM knows about these snags and has some trade-secret ways of overcoming them... or perhaps GM hasn't discovered them yet, or is ignoring them because the Volt isn't really intended to succeed and is just a very elaborate "image" ploy.

  • by TheDarkener ( 198348 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:48PM (#25239191) Homepage

    Car dealer #1: Will people actually BUY a hybrid car, saving them hundreds/thousands in fuel costs?
    Car dealer #2: No, they just want GPS and a phat system, yo. /me wants "+1 Sad But True" ...

  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:58PM (#25239287) Journal

    I think for short hauls compressed air might be better than electricity. Deakin University just won an award for "the Model T for the 21st" or some such (JFGI).

    Their car was a three wheeler with no steering gear. Front wheels are fixed, rear wheel a freewheeling caster, steering by pressure differential in hub-mounted turbines. There's no chemical reaction involved in power transfer -- the sucker doesn't even emit ozone.

    Given that many folks prefer air over electric for power tools (myself included) the better & cheaper control over power delivery could leap past the electric hybrid altogether. For long drives you'd still need auxiliary power, the difference being you'd replace engine + generator + battery with engine + compressor + air tank. No battery at all -- no lithium, no nickel, no cadmium, no lead.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mweather ( 1089505 )
      Part of the reason compressed air cars are efficient enough to be feasible is the weight savings from it's simplicity. I don't think it would be feasible for it to have an engine for compressing air. If it did, it would need to be small, and take a long time. It would only be practical for getting to the next gas station.
    • IIRC, compressed air is orders of magnitude less efficient (in terms of energy conversion) than electric is.

      Also, the battery technology is almost there already. All we really need is something like the Chevy Aveo that runs on electricity only. That would be awesome.

  • I will (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <ckratsch@gmail . c om> on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:07PM (#25239401)

    I will buy an electric car. I will charge it at night. I will. I promise. Start fucking building them.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:50PM (#25240615) Homepage

    Well, there's the Tesla, with 200 mile range on a charge. The price, at $100,000+, is excessive, although not by supercar standards. The energy density of batteries is at last good enough. Price, though...

    I've seen a Tesla being driven on the road past my house. It was a rather dirty car, so it was actually being used. I live in the northern part of Silicon Valley, near the Tesla dealership, and am on a scenic route to Woodside, so it's not that surprising to see an exotic. The number of Teslas on the road is still under 100, though.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Taibhsear ( 1286214 )

      I love the Tesla, however I'd never be able to afford it. How about they keep the body style, keep the range (maybe allow as low as 100 mile range) and skimp on that 0-60 in like 4 seconds. Get the price dropped to about $30-35k and they can sign me up.

Life in the state of nature is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. - Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan