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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 Swizec ( 978239 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:20PM (#25238787) Homepage
    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?
  • Time Based Charge (Score:4, Interesting)

    by autocracy ( 192714 ) <> on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:32PM (#25238979) Homepage
    A lot of electric providers allow a system where electricity is charged at a higher rate in the day, and a dirt-cheap rate at night. Plug in the car when it's in the driveway, use a timer on the plug. Tada.
  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:34PM (#25239001)

    Dude, the Department of Energy says you're wrong: []

    One common critique of an electric car revolution is that the increased energy demand might just lead to the generation of new power plants, negating some of the cars' positive environmental benefits. Well, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Energy, those critiques are misguided. The study shows 84% of the 198 million cars, light trucks and SUVs on America's roads could be fueled by the existing energy infrastructure if switched to plug-in hybrid vehicles. When you add vans and other vehicles in the "light duty fleet," 73% of the 217 million vehicles could be powered with the power plants we have in place today. In switching from 6.5 million barrels of oil every day to electric cars fueled by off-peak power production, the study estimates a reduction of greenhouse gases by 27%.

    Even with America's current power mix, with a heavy dose of coal power generation, electric vehicles are show to reduce total greenhouse emissions, however the picture isn't all rosy. The Department of Energy study also points to an increase in total particulate emissions with the grid pumping power all night. This, however, is much easier to tackle than petroleum-based pollution. As alternative energy gains a greater share of the American power pie chart, we can look for less particulate emissions as well. In the meantime, check to see if your power company offers green power or try to generate your own. Then, when you get your electric speedster, you can rev it up without worry.

    Emphasis mine.

  • 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 TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:42PM (#25239107)

    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 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 lgw ( 121541 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:43PM (#25239117) Journal

    Winds farms don't scale, and do affect the environment some. Hydro doesn't scale, and building new dams just to make power certainly screws with the local environment. Geothermal doesn't come anywhere close to scaling, and may affect the environment in surprising ways.

    Right now, nuclear is the only scalable choice for clean power. Eventually, solar will work too, but since solar isn't reliable it will never be a primary power source until someone invents a magic battery. However, with a magic battery, solar power is "fusion power too cheap to meter" so hopefully somone makes that happen.

    ULEV cars are *far* cleaner than existing coal plants, and may be cleaner than a pure-electric car depending on where you live.

    "Serial" hybrids (motor turns generator, not axel) are a fantastic idea, because they allow turbine engines to replace reciprocating cylinder engines. Gas turbines can be may much *more* efficient than 4-stroke engines, because you can make good use of the waste heat. I think the theoretical limit for a turbine is double tht of a 4-stroke - anyone know for sure?

  • by afidel ( 530433 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:48PM (#25239189)
    I often wonder why Toyota pulled the plugin capabilities from the Prius, the hardware is there in the first generation models, my friend has a kit to convert his once the battery warranty is up and there's not a lot to it, just a plug that attaches to some internal terminals and a chip mod to delay the engine warm-up until the battery is much further drained.
  • by RabidMoose ( 746680 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:50PM (#25239213) Homepage
    I would want to know the range on the electric system and the millage when running purely on gas
    They never run purely on gas though. Like you said, the gas engine merely charges the batteries, it isn't directly connected to power the wheels at all.
    Personally, I'd like to see a MKw measurement (miles per kilowatt) become standard. Then, for the gas generators, you could get Kw/gallon.
  • by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @05:54PM (#25239257)

    In suburbia, at least, I predict a charge robot. I get home at night, I get out of my car, I walk into the house, hitting the garage door closer button on the way in. A few minutes later, the robot (which is nothing but a simple arm attached to the wall), reaches out and plugs into the car. The car has some method for helping the robot locate the plug integrated into it, which means the robot can find the plug without having to get silly with natural vision expert systems, making it quite cheap and simple. In the morning, I walk into the garage, hitting the door opener button, and the robot disengages its plug and retracts before I hit the driver's seat. I drive out with a 100% charge every morning. What could be easier?

    Going to a gas station to have to climb out of your car, fiddle with your credit card at the pump, get the nozzle into the car, begin fueling, then get the nozzle back to the pump, and fiddle with the pump some more to get your receipt, and make sure to put your gas cap back on... all of it will just feel primitive, after a few months of literally never having to think about it. Sure you've got a charge indicator, but most of the time you don't even care what it says. You've got enough charge to go anywhere you're likely to go in a day, and you ALWAYS do. Every day.

    I'd buy a Tesla Roadster in a heartbeat, if I could afford it. As many other posters have pointed out, whoever can meet or beat "standard" new car prices of $20k or so won't be able to keep one on the lot for a decade.

  • 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:FUD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:08PM (#25239423)

    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 making them.

    If you ask me, this is just a ploy by Toyota to get the other automakers to doubt themselves a bit. It's a reverse psychology tactic from the market leader - it make perfect sense. At any rate, Toyota needs to stop dicking around and get its PBEVs into the US market and forget about self-competing, because if they wait until the Chevy volt and other EVs come out, they're not going to be on top of the market for long.

  • by jcnnghm ( 538570 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:32PM (#25239717)

    57% of Prius buyers cited "Makes a statement about me" [], as the top reason for their purchase.

  • Re:Um (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 2ms ( 232331 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:35PM (#25239757)

    The American SUVs have basically all been around for 50 years, it's just soccer moms didn't want them before. They were originally for things like towing boats, horses, etc around and general work. They were based on pickup platforms that already existed -- the "american car companies" you single out did not create them for the craze.

    However, Toyota has more lines/platforms of SUV than any other car manufacturer, and has introduced almost all of them within the period of the craze -- almost all of them were introduced during the last 10-15 years. And, each one has been bigger and bigger, basically. In fact, they're so "gung ho" about them that they're still coming out with their largest and most wasteful ones ever now (eg the brand new 14mpg Sequoia and their newest SUV nameplate the lovely 16mpg 6cyl FJ Cruiser).

    You've basically got things backward. The American manufacturers had SUVs all along (conceived as worktrucks). It's Honda, Toyota, Nissan, etc that have been scrambling to make as many SUVs, conceived for soccer moms and people trying to be cool) as they can possibly shove out the door to feed the craze.

  • by marnues ( 906739 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:38PM (#25239817)
    Since we're engineering minded people here, I would assume you realize that $ per mile is pretty useless as a comparison tool since prices can fluctuate per time, per region, per battery, per EV engine, etc. Yes much of the point of these vehicles is to give us a cheaper replacement for us normal folk. However, let's give them a chance to get the engineering right before we start talking about the dollar signs involved. Once we have something that works we can generally figure out a way to lower costs.
  • by twistedsymphony ( 956982 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:39PM (#25239823) Homepage

    But you have to figure that electricity costs are going to go up over time

    Funny enough, Solar panels are becoming more efficient and more affordable as time goes on too.

    I for one look forward to the day where my garage has a solar panel on the roof and my full electric car charges overnight costing me ZERO dollars to "fill up". If we see a full electric with a 200 mile range where you can buy the car+ solar charging equipment for under $35K in the next 10 years... that would do wonders to end the oil dependency... I think it's plausible too.

  • by TooMuchToDo ( 882796 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:43PM (#25239881)

    The engine warm-up needs to take place at time of start so if you DO need the engine (passing, etc) the catalytic converter is warmed up to work properly. More info at the link: []

  • by tthomas48 ( 180798 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @06:59PM (#25240113) Homepage

    The amount of high-quality useful uranium is unknown and I find both sides reporting on the amount to be highly suspect. The model, however, is very similar to oil in that we can probably keep recovering it in more and more expensive manners as the price of it goes up (thus where the "nearly-unlimited" supply comes from). But how much is there that is equivalent in price to coal, oil, wind, or solar?

    Nuclear power is simple economics. It will start making political sense once the lower cost outweighs the publics fears. What's that cost? I don't know but it's significantly higher than the cost of oil currently, and the fact that we have very promising solar and wind technologies makes it very high indeed.

  • by tthomas48 ( 180798 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:05PM (#25240175) Homepage

    "Environmentalists don't care where Coal, Gas, or Oil waste goes"

    Wow. That's one of the most stunningly ignorant statements I've read in a long time. Seriously. Almost every environmental political and legal group is constantly working on issues related to air-pollution from power plants.

    You are right in that it's hypocritical to have higher standards for nuclear power than the other power sources. But I'd prefer to bring our standards up, rather than lower nuclear's standards to that of coal. The way most coal powered plants are run it'd look like Chernobyl around the plant, and they'd store the waste in big piles out in the open.

  • by Walpurgiss ( 723989 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:09PM (#25240223)
    Perhaps connected to some sort of ultra capacitive charge storage solution that charges during the peak sunlight hours, then discharges when you connect your vehicle as a load?

    Not sure how efficient that could be, but it's unlikely that the op completely overlooked the fact that there isn't much sun at night.
  • by DragonWriter ( 970822 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:09PM (#25240225)

    I often wonder why Toyota pulled the plugin capabilities from the Prius, the hardware is there in the first generation models, my friend has a kit to convert his once the battery warranty is up and there's not a lot to it, just a plug that attaches to some internal terminals and a chip mod to delay the engine warm-up until the battery is much further drained.

    The second part of that, IIRC, only requires a mod of any kind in US models, its activated by an "EV mode" (often called "stealth mode") button that's standard in Asian and European Prius models (both in the current and first-gen models).

  • by whtmarker ( 1060730 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @07:41PM (#25240543) Homepage
    In canadian winters everyone plugs in their cars at night (block heater) or else they won't start in the morning, so I don't see what the big deal is. Canada's electricity infrastructure is just fine for plugging in cars at night.

    Besides how hard is it to build a device with an autoshutoff when the battery is full. The big problem will be people who forget to unplug their cars, and drive away with half a power cord attached!
  • 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.

  • by AgentPaper ( 968688 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @08:26PM (#25240927)

    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 Smart did well against cars of similar size and weight (ha!), but threw up some major red flags in the lack of a front crumple zone, reliance on restraints to decelerate passengers in a crash, and poor door engineering (read: the doors popped open during the crash test, and if the dummies hadn't been belted in they would've been ejected). None of that, to my mind, tracks with "one of the safest cars on the planet."

    That, of course, does not take into account my knee-jerk reaction: You're going to take a Smart through the Mixing Bowl on a daily basis? Just let one semi hit you at 85 MPH and there won't be enough left of you for the EMTs to scrape off the pavement. I wouldn't want to take my chances against a deer either. I'm sure the Smarts are okay for city driving (I know one person who owns one, and that's exactly what they use it for, zipping between Troy, Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills), but on the freeway... not on my life.

    (Full disclosure: The author is a Detroiter, and drives a Saab 9-3. Don't look at me like that, GM owns them...)

  • stop and go (Score:3, Interesting)

    by shmlco ( 594907 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @08:46PM (#25241107) Homepage

    "People who mainly commute could fill up as little as 2 or 3 times a year, and would probably be riding on 1/4 of a tank most of the time."

    A Volt can do 100 miles on a quarter tank. A Prius 150. How far away do you need to be?

    Further, in a crawling out-of-town emergency stop-and-go situation such as you envision a Prius PHEV would do even BETTER than a typical gas-power car as a Prius can and will shut down and conserve the gas motor in those kinds of conditions. It's just not needed.

    Talk about a lame, ill-considered excuse for an argument...

  • Re:DOE study (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lgw ( 121541 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @08:47PM (#25241115) Journal

    People are going to plug in when they get home. They aren't going to wait till later in the evening, forget, and have no power in the morning. In some cities (such as Houston), people get home while electrical power demand is still high (thanks to A/Cs, which are a huge draw in someplace like Houston).

    Still, *if* we actually built new distribution infrastructure in this country, we could probably keep up with the change-over. People may buy new cars quite often, but it would take many years for the idea to become popular and the new cars to trickle down to the used-car market &c. The problem is, we *suck* at building new infrastructure in the US. It's embarassing, really.

  • by mattack2 ( 1165421 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @08:49PM (#25241135)

    "once the battery discharges" disproves your "no gasoline, no drive" statement. In other words, if it can go _at all_ with an empty gas tank, then it's showing that it's not gasoline only.

    Also, isn't it true that Japanese versions of the Prius have a way that the driver can make them work entirely in electric mode?

  • by Taibhsear ( 1286214 ) on Thursday October 02, 2008 @10:42PM (#25241749)

    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.

  • by sketerpot ( 454020 ) < minus pi> on Friday October 03, 2008 @12:37AM (#25242359)
    Better to just hook the panel up to the power grid. Sell power during the day, when there's more demand and the prices are higher, and buy power at night. That way you lessen the need for expensive peak-power generation and get more bang for your buck. It's a win for everyone.
  • by Miamicanes ( 730264 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @01:08AM (#25242497)

    > I for one look forward to the day where my garage has a solar panel on the roof and my full electric car charges
    > overnight costing me ZERO dollars to "fill up". ... as long as you don't live in Florida or somewhere else vulnerable to hurricanes. Solar hot water heaters became VERY popular here during the 80s and early 90s... until Andrew destroyed every single one in Dade County, insurance companies refused to insure them because they're pretty much GUARANTEED to sustain expensive damage in even a mild hurricane, and the sale of new ones pretty much ended... then the parade of hurricanes in 2004 destroyed just about every single solar hot water heating system in the state.

    Could they be made hurricane-proof? Unlikely, short of building the roof from concrete, anchoring the panels with steel bands embedded into that concrete, and putting half-inch aquarium-glass or aluminum oxide covers on them (which might affect their performance in addition to making them prohibitively expensive). Could you take them down and stow them inside the house? Well, it depends... how enthusiastic are you about carrying a hundred or more heavy rectangular panels at least the size of a half sheet of drywall down a ladder, one at a time... moving all the furniture in the living room to make room for them, putting down plastic (they're dirty, after all... don't want to ruin the floorcovering), carrying them inside, piling them up... then repeating the whole process, in reverse, after the hurricane? Moving a few panels inside is one thing... moving an entire ROOF's worth of them is another matter entirely.

  • by Gordonjcp ( 186804 ) on Friday October 03, 2008 @03:33AM (#25243043) Homepage

    I do find it pretty funny what non-environmentalists try to play up as environmental concerns

    I *am* an environmentalist, and also an automotive engineer. I know exactly what goes into making cars, right down to the energy budget required for the manufacture of individual parts.

    The most environmentally-friendly cars on the road today are mid-1980s diesel Landrovers. They'll be going long after the Priuses and Insights are leaking their toxic crap into the water table. Next after that are Volvo 240s, which are more-or-less tied with Citroen 2CVs. Yes, the engine in the latter isn't especially clean, but you can improve the ignition system with electronic ignition to sort that out.

    What do these three have in common?

    They're all incredibly repairable.

    It's far easier (both physically and in terms of energy use) to keep repairing an old vehicle, than it is to make a brand-new one. Furthermore, they're mostly all just steel and aluminium, with small amounts of plastics (the Volvo interior has a lot of plastic, including rather ecologically nasty polyurethane foam. There's always something...) and PVC wiring insulation. Modern cars tend to make extensive use of plastics, which are hard to usefully recycle and very unpleasant to make.

    The petrol engines used in older cars can be adapted to run on a wide variety of fuels. I've successfully run car engines on bottled gas (this is now fairly common in Europe, and is very very clean indeed), ethanol/methanol mix (okay, moonshine), and coal gas (not so very pleasant, but it does work). People have built producer gas generators and run petrol engines off them - Denmark in particular used producer gas to run farm machinery during WW2. You simply can't do this with modern petrol engines, because the electronic engine management systems get in the way.

    Oh, and here's the kicker: Hybrids aren't actually that efficient! Talking to a neighbour who owns a Prius, it turns out that around town he gets an incredibly 36mpg, dropping to 30mpg when it's driven on the motorway. My all-mechanical, carb-fed 1988 Citroen CX, with its rattly clattery 1970s petrol engine, gets 30mpg in town and 34mpg on the motorway. Oops! So your lovely clean hybrid is only a *tiny* bit more efficient, when it's clogging the streets with traffic! Once you actually use it for a long run (which is what I tend to do - I know others may want to obstruct the streets with their noisy messy cars), it becomes *worse* than a car twice the size and 20 years old. Oh dear. It's not looking so good now, is it?

"If the code and the comments disagree, then both are probably wrong." -- Norm Schryer