Initial testing of Toyota’s plug-in hybrid system installed in the second-gen Prius has returned fuel-economy figures of 65mpgEnlarge Photo
For instance, the fully-hybrid lineup will include small cars, but those small cars won't be full-hybrids, such as the Prius. Instead they will be so-called 'mild' hybrids, assisting at low speeds and aiding start-stop functionality, but since small cars are already very efficient, adding extra weight and complexity - and therefore cost - wouldn't be effective. The first likely recipient of such technology is the iQ, which could be to market by 2010.
In a similarly conservative vein, Toyota will also continue forward for some time with nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries in place of the more space-conserving lithium ion alternative in order to save cost. The company thinks it can extend the aging technology up to an electric-only range of as much as 24mi (40km), reports Auto Motor & Sport.
Pure electric vehicles (EVs), however, aren't as appealing to Toyota, and they will not be focusing on the technology, believing it only bears short-term relevance to a few higher-end segments.
Toyota was one of the first carmakers to announce plans to eventually launch hybrid versions of its entire lineup when in May last year powertrain chief Masatami Takimoto said hybrids will be the standard drivetrain and account for “100 percent” of Toyota’s cars. Those earlier comments were later backed up by company president Katsuaki Watanabe, who said Toyota will offer petrol-hybrid cars throughout its lineup in the long term. The company's continual re-affirmation of the message usually includes a quantification of the impact the brand’s hybrids have had to date.
The roughly 1 million hybrids sold by Toyota through 2008 have resulted in a reduction of 7 million pounds of carbon dioxide that would have been emitted by less efficient standard-powertrain vehicles purchased in their place, claims Toyota. But the company isn’t limiting its future to hybrid technology.
Fuel cells will also play a role in helping reduce Toyota’s impact on the environment, though it is the first to admit its technologies are not nearly robust enough for consumer use at this point. Logistics issues in sourcing and distributing the hydrogen to power the fuel cells is also a major issue hindering the realization of hydrogen-powered vehicles.
A more immediate solution could be the plug-in hybrid. Already competitors like General Motors are moving rapidly ahead with plug-in solutions, such as the Volt, and Toyota is itself committed to the technology, but it still has questions about the fuel sources when running in hybrid mode. For instance, though an electric only range of 40mi (64km) per day may be all most Americans need for their commutes, according to Toyota, that only reduces emissions by about 35%, because there are many people who drive long distances at least occasionally, and once outside the electric-only range of most plug-in hybrids, the emissions begin to closely resemble normal hybrids or even conventional cars.
Toyota is not alone in its promise to deliver a full hybrid range. Mercedes-Benz has said that its entire lineup in the future will include a hybrid option and more recently Chrysler has said the same. GM, meanwhile, has confirmed that it would introduce 16 new hybrid vehicles over the next four years.