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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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  • Electric Gas Cans? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:13PM (#25238703)

    What is the electric equivalent of a gas can? When my batteries go flat a couple miles from home, what will I do?

  • 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.
  • 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...

  • by Cyberax ( 705495 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:25PM (#25238861)

    I get my electricity from nuclear powerplant. So what now?

  • 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 Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:29PM (#25238935) Homepage

    You may feel nice and fuzzy warm about getting an electric vehicle, but then, you get a whoop-ass dose of reality when you find out, low and behold, your electric provider uses COAL FIRED plants to create this invisible power. What is the dirtiest method of power?????

    The dirtiest would be a tiny mobile power plant burning fossil fuels that can't afford to have large-scale scrubbers on them because, being mobile, this power plant has to carry its own weight so any emissions controls directly effect the amount of fuel needed to travel.

    Being large and stationary means coal plants can be made more efficient and have more environmental controls with minimal impact on operation. Even with electricity generated from coal, an electric car is producing less pollution per mile traveled than your gas car.

    And hey maybe you didn't know but us tree huggers are also pushing for more green power generation. So while your gas car stays as bad as it is for its entire life, the tree hugger's electric magically becomes more green every time someone builds a wind farm.

  • by sqrt(2) ( 786011 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:30PM (#25238955) Journal

    Unfortunately, unlike you and I, most "greens" are dead set against expanding nuclear power. They seem to think wind/solar/"biofuel" will be able to get the job done (no, covering the surface of the Earth with solar panels or wind farms is not practical, feasible or desirable). Most of them don't bother to think of the logic behind their positions so it's no wonder they don't have an answer to where all this new electricity will come from. All they know is that their trendy new EV doesn't burn any evil hydrocarbons.

  • 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.

  • by sqrt(2) ( 786011 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:38PM (#25239045) Journal

    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 CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:39PM (#25239065) Journal
    Some greens don't even like wind power because it kills the birds. Some even don't like solar because they have a feeling that we'll ruin the deserts. The greens don't seem like they have any specific leader they follow, so they seem to be all over the board in what they think is bad for the world. The sad thing is that nuclear is probably more green than most other power because of the advances we made in the last few decades, but no one can seem to change the image of nuclear to the people... If there was ever the need for public relations for something, I think nuclear could use it. There is no reason some people should have to pay most of their income just to keep warm through the winter.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:41PM (#25239083)

    Yes: I've been holding off buying a Prius waiting for the plug-in version next year. Now Toyota is changing their mind, and I might actually look at the GM product.

    Unfortunately "GM==craptastic" is etched in my brain from years of experience. The Volt might have good engineering behind it, but I expect it to be produced with low quality and have trashy style. Chrome-painted radio dials, anyone?

  • by wurp ( 51446 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:55PM (#25239261) Homepage

    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 spend $38,000 on a plug-in hybrid car that looks like crap & has no features probably prefer to spend $50,000 on a plug-in hybrid car that looks nice and is fun to be in.

    Then we'll get better at making individual units cheaply, the manufacturing infrastructure will become more established, and car companies will get more comfortable about how many PIH cars will sell. And then they'll get cheap.

    Car companies would gladly sell us cars that never required fuel if they could figure out how to make them at prices people would pay. If 90% of car companies elected not to sell cars that don't use petroleum (or use less petroleum) which everyone could afford simply because the people making decisions have a stake in petroleum sales, the other 10% of car companies would put them out of business.

  • 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 tthomas48 ( 180798 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:03PM (#25239353) Homepage

    Um... have we managed to find a place to store nuclear waste? Have we uncovered an unlimited trove of radioactive material? Most intelligent people realize that a change is coming where we're going to have to move away from the oil economy. Oil is finite. Do we really want to spend all our time and money on building infrastructure that's also non-renewable? Nuclear is a lot of money and risk for a non-renewable energy source.

    That said, will we add more nuclear as we move away from oil? More than likely. Should it be a goal? No. It's unsustainable.

  • I will (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <.ckratsch. .at.> 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 mweather ( 1089505 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:20PM (#25239557)
    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.
  • by dohboy ( 449807 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:21PM (#25239571)
    The best comparison is $ per mile (or euro per km)
  • by Altus ( 1034 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:23PM (#25239587) Homepage

    It seems obvious that electricity will still be cheaper than oil.

    I'm curious to see what impact this has on time based electricity pricing. If everyone is charging up a car at night wouldn't overall demand even out between morning and evening? Right now people talk about charging the cars at night when electricity is cheep but I cant imagine that would remain the case.

  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:26PM (#25239633) Homepage Journal

    There is no way the grid can handle so many cars being plugged in to recharge at night. .. your electric provider uses COAL FIRED plants to create this invisible power.

    Coal doesn't burn at night? I think you got coal confused with solar.

  • by rock56501 ( 1301287 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:34PM (#25239743)
    If the price of electricity goes up in the summer just due to the demand from AC, what would current rates do if everyone started plugging in their cars? Maybe gas will drop to $0.50/gal and the cost of electricity will jump to the equivelant of $5.00 gas.
  • by Robotbeat ( 461248 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:38PM (#25239799) Journal

    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 totally change the minds of the car manufacturers.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:40PM (#25239839)

    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 done (due to cheap oil).

    This is a very US-centric view of the problem: are you saying that battery research throughout the entire world is depressed because of oil subsidies in the US? Or do you just think that all battery researchers outside of the US are morons? Maybe battery technology hasn't advanced very fast because it's hard? There's no rule that says that every technological field has to advance at 'moores law' speeds..

  • by noidentity ( 188756 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:43PM (#25239877)

    Plug in hybrids still use gas. That's why they are hybrids, otherwise they would simply be electric cars.

    And in fact they are the only true hybrids. These other so-called hybrids run on gasoline only. Simple proof: no gasoline, no drive (once the battery discharges).

  • by Free the Cowards ( 1280296 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:44PM (#25239883)

    Nuclear is not comparable to oil because the quantity of substance needed and expelled is literally millions of times less.

    There is enough Uranium on the planet to run modern civilization for many millennia. And waste is a trivial problem which does not deserve all of the attention it gets. France has similar nuclear generation capacity to the US but is a much smaller country (75% of their electricity is nuclear), and you don't see a looming French nuclear waste disposal problem.

    The current problems with nuclear power are all political. Uranium supply is not a problem. Construction of new plants is only a problem because it's politically impossible. Waste is only a problem because waste reprocessing is politically impossible.

  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:46PM (#25239917) Journal

    You could vaporize the waste and shoot it up through chimneys, and still release less nuclear waste per watt than coal plants.

    But seriously.. it's not waste. It's still mostly-unused-fuel. You do the same thing the foundries do with slag: store it on site until it's economically or politically favorable to process it and run it through again.

    There is plenty of fuel available for a LONG time. The only thing more "sustainable" than nuclear power is still, technically, nuclear power.

  • by BlackSnake112 ( 912158 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:57PM (#25240077)

    Where does the electricity come from?

    Unless you live in an area where the electricity is made from hydro/nuke/solar only. That electricity is made from oil/coal. So not so much savings since oil is still in the equation.

    Coal is still used in the US at least not sure world wide. I think that are natural gas electricity plants and geo-thermal ones too but I don't have those numbers. Not everywhere can have geo-thermal electric plants.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:40PM (#25240531)

    I live in an apartment which doesn't have power in the [shared secured] garage for obvious reasons, so plug-in cars are not for me and anyone else in my situation.

    For everyone else, utility companies need to come up with a way to vary their rates generally according to load on the system - by introducing smarter metering systems.

  • by jeppen ( 1377103 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:55PM (#25240657)
    I do not think you realize the proportions here. 400 KWh per month multiplied by fifty million cars and 12 months gives 240 TWh per year. This is only 6% of the current United States electricity consumption of about 3800 TWh/year! The increase in demand would come over perhaps two decades, making the year-on-year increase about 0.3%. But the average yearly US consumption growth during the last decade has been 2.2%! You will cope easily. And 50 million cars driving 300*4*12 = 14400 miles at 25 MPG, the United States would save 29 billion gallons a year. Imagine sending $100 billion less to the Middle East every year and instead running about 25 nuclear power plants (you already have a hundred) for an up-front investment cost of only $200 billion and then peanuts for some canadian uranium and operation&maintenance.
  • Re:DOE study (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @08:59PM (#25241215) Homepage

    "People are going to plug in when they get home."

    Fine. Plug it in. But I don't suppose you've heard of a new, top-secret invention that's just now making it's way out of the lab?

    It's called a timer. Read the DOE study, and you'll see that timers and/or "smart" recharging systems eliminate most of the load-balancing issues. Heck, quite a few of the newer home A/C systems (since you brought them up) now negotiate with the grid and shutdown intermittently to reduce peak loads.

    If they can do it, so can a car charger.

    On a side note, I wish more people would actually do some research and consider SOLUTIONS to these kinds of issues, and not just spend their time smugly shooting entirely theoretical holes in other people's proposals.

  • by Radical Moderate ( 563286 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @09:36PM (#25241445)
    Assigned parking with locked and metered outlets. Our utility already varies its rates, it's not real hard to figure out when the low-load times are.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 03, 2008 @02:15AM (#25242755)

    The greens this, the greens that. Maybe you would be less perplexed if you stopped artificially categorizing people with simple labels. . .

  • by Sandbags ( 964742 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @10:00AM (#25245287) Journal

    unfortunately, once electric cars take off, the demand will actually be higher at night.

    Ultracapacators are an option, but are dangerous. More likely, you'll have a battery pack that gets charged and then it charges the car.

    However, wind is still going to be cheaper than solar for 15-20 years. Home solar can't even generate 100% utiilization fro most homes today. An enelctic car by itself uses more than whole homes do. Imaging 2-3 electric cars... Even in 30 years scientists don;t expect to have solar cells capable of meeting those demands, let alone all the folks that live in milti-family homes and apartments who can not benefit from solar.

    Fact is, we have enough wind alone in America, mostly just in texas and the norther wind corridor, to power the entire hemesphere. Wind is cheap, and reliable. On a nationally scaled system, localized wind drop offs are easily compensated for by the grid. This system is not only affordable, but more profitable than coal poewr, and thus you see the existing and continuing heavy investment.

    The power grid overall is being overhauled seperately. Hundreds of billoins have been earmerked to replace our existing national grid with a superconducting system. It's already begun as Long Island's super grid came online months ago. Europe has thousands of miles of this new cabling in place already. We can aford it, we can keep up with demand. Any contrary report is FUD being spread by other industries, or by local power companies who will be forced to lower rates once you can buy power from other places in america to come to your home (decentralized power grid).

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal