Toyota Continues Aggressive Development of Next-Generation Electric Cars

By · October 24, 2017

Toyota Concept-i

It’s been one year since Japan’s Nikkei newspaper reported that Toyota intends to mass-produce an electric car with a driving range of approximately 185 miles. According to multiple reports, Toyota continues to pursue this goal—and to develop an EV with even longer range and able to recharge much faster than today’s electric models. The company has not yet revealed any specific product plans for an electric car in the United States.

In November 2016, the automaker announced that it dedicated a team to develop a long-range EV by 2020. The future model is expected to use an existing platform, such as Prius or Corolla.

Toyota’s sole plug-in vehicle today is the Prius Prime plug-in hybrid. Without much fanfare (or claims of EV technology leadership), the Prius Prime is among the highest selling plug-in models with monthly sales that nearly match the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid—as well as top-selling pure EVs from Tesla and Chevrolet.

In an effort to leapfrog current EV technology, Toyota is also working on an EV that’s powered by a solid-state battery—a technology that could increase driving range and greatly reduce charging times. Reuters and others reported in July 2017 that Toyota is targeting 2022 for beginning sales in Japan of an EV with solid-state batteries. It would be an entirely new model built on a new platform.

It’s not clear how the two goals—for both a 185-mile EV by 2020 and an even longer-range quicker-charging new electric car by 2022—relate to one another.

The first so-called long-range affordable all-electric cars, such as the Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3, today offer more than 200 miles of driving range for as low as $30,000. However, charging times remain a challenge—with the fastest public chargers requiring a 30-minute pit stop to replenish 150 to 200 miles of range. The relatively long charging time represents a compromise for drivers taking long road trips and not wanting to stop every two to three hours.

Solid-state batteries, not yet proven for automotive use at a reasonable cost, could reduce that time to a few minutes. We reported on Toyota’s pursuit of a solid-state EV battery technology in 2011 and 2013. The company's work on a breakthrough battery dates back all the way to 1925.

In the Meantime...Concepts

Last month, Toyota established a new venture—called EV Common Architecture Spirit—to develop electric vehicle technology with Mazda. In a statement, Toyota said the new venture will develop technology for a wide range of vehicles, including micro-cars, sedans, SUVs, and light trucks.

While it could be at least a couple years before a Toyota reveals definitive plans for a long-range electric car for American consumers, the company will bring three futuristic EV concepts to the 2017 Tokyo Motor Show, which opens this weekend.

One of those models, the Concept-i—which was unveiled at CES in Las Vegas in January—has room for four passengers and provides a driving range of about 185 miles. The concept models are intended to show off Toyota’s emerging EV capabilities, as well as the company’s autonomous vehicle technologies. Toyota is investing approximately $1 billion to develop self-driving electric cars—models that might even be able to track driver’s habits, preferences, and emotions—by about 2020.

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