Toyota admits electric car market is running on fumes

by editor on January 31, 2010

Ugly, expensive and inefficient. The automotive trifecta. This is not good news. Not good news at all.

Toyota, the world leader in fuel-efficient hybrid cars, admits that plug-in hybrids don’t have much of a future. In fact, Koei Saga, Toyota’s guy in charge of advanced technology and battery development, sounds particularly grim.

The New York Times reports the devastating details:

He said that limited range means that E.V.’s work best as “very small commuter-type vehicles” for use in major metropolitan areas (he used Europe and Japan as examples). Asked if longer-range E.V.’s were possible with current technology, he said that could happen only “if we forget about battery life and if we forget about the cost incurred for replacement of those batteries.”

Battery cars capable of extended highway travel are relatively far in the future, Mr. Saga said. He envisioned such electric cars working best if they could obtain electricity not from batteries, but from an interaction with the highway itself. Just such a system has been tested by the Advanced Institute of Science and Technology of Korea, which uses induction strips and inverters embedded in the road to recharge batteries when cars drive over them.

Asked if the world’s vehicles would ever be exclusively electric, Mr. Saga said, “In my personal view, I think we will never abandon the internal-combustion engine.” He did envision a possible future for fuel-cell vehicles and internal-combustion cars that burn hydrogen, however.

Our advice: Keep actor Ed Begley, Jr. away from the harakiri ceremonial swords.

Source: New York Times

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

CurtisHx January 31, 2010 at 5:42 pm

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And here’s where I have a problem with debunking the global warming theory. Electric cars are the way to go. We are going to run out of oil sometime, and the best solution that I see currently is electric. Think about it. The majority of people do 50 mile round trip commutes per day. An electric car with a range of, say, 150-200 miles would be perfect for 90% of people. Until batteries get better, people would need to retain gas cars for the range and fast refuel, but what family DOESN’T have 2 or more cars? One for dad to commute, and one for mom to run the little monstrosities around. Electric cars plus nuclear power is the way to go. By the time that we run out of gas, we will have the technology that allows for 10 minute recharges and 300 mile range. But, we need to get to work on it.

Administrator January 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm

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Debunking the global warming hoax has nothing to do with electric cars. Anthropogenic Global Warming is a fraud (just do some reading at for starters). Period. You can still like electic cars and nuclear power, and hate oil, and still debunk false science.

Also, nice thought about getting power for electric cars from nuclear power plants. But the problem is those that love electric cars hate nuclear power, in general.

I happen to like electric cars — IF they don’t consider powering them from electricity generated by windmills.

Paul Scott February 1, 2010 at 3:59 pm

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I’m interested in knowing why you don’t want to consider powering EVs from windmills. The utilities are trying to add more renewable energy to their grid mix and wind is selling for about 7 cents/kWh. The only problems are that it blows intermittently and mostly at night when there is a surplus of energy. That’s why the utilities love EVs. Most of them will be charged at night when rates are lowest, and they are perfect for storing that wind energy. Offsetting dirty and expensive foreign oil with clean and cheap renewable kWh seems like a patriotic thing to do.

As for using nuclear energy, you could do that, but it’s selling for 16 cents a kWh, and that’s before distribution which adds another 6 cents. I don’t know why people keep bringing that up as a solution. They clearly aren’t looking at its expense.

Administrator February 1, 2010 at 7:24 pm

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I’m interested in knowing why you don’t want to consider powering EVs from windmills.

I like to drive when it’s not windy too.

Paul Scott February 1, 2010 at 9:33 pm

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Really? Can’t tell if you are serious here since I don’t know you. If you’re serious, then I detect a phenomenal lack of understanding of basic physics. Batteries are one of the few methods of storing electrical energy. It doesn’t matter when the wind blows, you can charge your batteries at any time and drive any time. The wind energy will merely offset the dirty coal energy that might otherwise be needed.

I happen to generate all of my kWh from the photons hitting my 3 kW PV system. I don’t charge during the day, however, since energy costs more during the day. I “sell” my excess kWh to the utility at the high price (over 30 cents during the summer months) and buy them back at night for about 10 cents. But this doesn’t mean I can’t drive my car at night. I can drive until the batteries no longer have any energy. Since the car has a range of about 120 miles, pretty much all of my daily driving is done using sunshine as my energy source.

Chris January 31, 2010 at 7:44 pm

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Toyota has never believed in electric car market nor has it invested in it. Toyota believes in the hybrid market and will probably miss out on the first wave of the electric car market as it kicks in over the next five years. Premise of this article seems a bit off track.

Paul Scott February 1, 2010 at 4:03 pm

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Toyota and Honda are both going to be late to the plug-in vehicle market. Both are doing well selling their respective hybrids and want to milk that profit cow as much as possible before the inevitable chance to plug-ins.

Toyota is especially guilty here since we know they are going to sell a plug-in version of the Prius within two years, but in the meantime, they are trying to depress the market for the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt. Too bad for them that both of those companies will be taking a lot of Toyota’s market share when those cars come out at the end of this year.

danybhoy February 1, 2010 at 5:25 am

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Look, I for one have driven many electric cars in the last few years, made by Yamaha & Ingersoll Rand. If you have not figured it out yet, they are GOLF CARTS. That is what electric cars are good for, golf. They are quiet, carry my clubs, & gets me around the course. Other then that, I’m really not down with electric cars. Besides, the people who are pushing these things are against building the power plants needed to charge them anyways. You will need more coalfire & nuke plants to handle the extra power needed if electric cars become the norm.

DJ February 1, 2010 at 12:44 pm

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LOL!!! Golf carts for sure! Nothing gets my blood pressure up more than seeing these little p*ke “cars” going 40mph on the freeway…you know, those Oh-so- SMART cars? The ones that double as a car AND a coffin when you get creamed by a Kenworth!

What I like are the claims that they (and others) are the “safest in its class”. Really? Well, what they don’t tell you is that its “class” is a pedestrian!!! Grow a brain, people! Is your life worth saving a few bucks on gas?

I guess it’s God’s way of thinning out the herd…

Paul Scott February 1, 2010 at 4:10 pm

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I think you’ll change your mind once you’ve had the opportunity to drive a highway capable EV. I’ve been driving a Toyota RAV4 EV for over 7 years and it’s pretty much the only car we drive. We have a gas guzzler (2001 Honda Insight) but rarely use it since it involves burning gas and we’d prefer not polluting the air.

If you don’t think EVs have enough power, go test drive a Tesla Roadster. Those cars will out accelerate pretty much any production car on the planet. 0-60 in 3.7 seconds! And they can do so while using less than half the energy of a Prius.

Those of us pushing these cars are not against building more power plants, we’re just against building them when they are unnecessary. We waste a good 20-30% of the energy we use here in the U.S. Seems the smarter direction is to get efficient with the energy we already have before building more power plants.

danybhoy February 1, 2010 at 6:08 pm

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Tesla has no chance as long as the gov’t props up failing car companies like GM & Chrystler. Allowing nature to take it’s course would open the door to companies like Tesla. GM & Chrystler are not too big too fail, & they should be allowed to. Someone will step into the void, there are many brands no longer around, & others gained marketshare or were introduced & did what the market demanded. Meaning the people wanted what was on offer.

BTW, many on the left are against any energy development in the USA. The greens are anti capitalists, & are for intents & purposes, are statists/marxists/socialists, but they call themselves progressives. You might not be against all the energy development, but many on the left are, & that’s who I was aiming at.

Paul Scott February 1, 2010 at 9:41 pm

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Tesla has a great chance of surviving since they’ve built a great reputation in just a few short years as the world’s premium electric vehicle company. Their second car, the “Model S”, will be a full sized sedan capable of holding 5 adults and a 0-60 of 5.6 seconds. This will start at about $57K before the $7,500 tax credit. They’re taking orders now and have received a few thousand orders from people who have put $5K down to hold their place in line.

As long as oil is heavily subsidized, we need a level playing field, so the federal tax credit is justified. Once the price of batteries comes down, the tax credit will go away.

As to your comment about people on the left being against energy development, I thin if you took the time to listen to what we say, you’d find that we’re only against waste and dirty energy. Remove the waste, and we could shut down most of the coal plants. As we add more renewable energy, we could eventually close most all of the coal plants. It won’t happen in my life time, but we’ll get a good start.

Administrator February 1, 2010 at 10:15 pm

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Where do you attach the windmill to the car? Doesn’t it hit trees and phone lines? Or blow you off course?

Paul Scott February 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm

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Ha Ha

I get it. You’re not really ignorant of physics, you just have a lame sense of humor. No worries, I just thought you were a real blogger with a point of view that wasn’t based in reality. I provided some evidence that didn’t square with your understanding of things and instead of engaging me in discourse to get to the truth, you pull a lame sophomoric boner out of your bag.

The truth is, plug-in vehicles are going to take over from internal combustion, and when they get started later this year, you’ll understand why. It might take you a couple years to come around, but you all will. Electricity is that much better.

If you want to know specifics, read from

If you want to play silly games, well, I guess you don’t need me to tell you how to do that.

danybhoy February 2, 2010 at 10:45 am

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Big Oil is on the gov’t hit list, & since so much of this nations oil is off limits for drilling. We should be drilling everywhere we have oil, & the “environmental” movement has successfully lobbied gov’t to prevent us drilling for our oil. We should be drilling off the Pacific, Atlantic, & Gulf Coasts more then we are now. We should be drilling in ANWAR in Alaska, we should be drilling the Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas, & Montana. We have tons of shale oil as well, not to mention natural gas coming out of our…well, you get the point.

Big Oil is being handcuffed bigtime, & that offsets any subsidy that big oil may get. We need energy companies to produce more domestic energy sources, & we have people, mainly on the political left, who are hellbent on making sure that never happens. They are standing in the way of America’s economic growth, & they don’t care.

Paul Scott February 2, 2010 at 11:15 am

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I hear this claptrap all the time and it’s getting tiresome. We just finished 8 years of the Bush administration backed by a mostly Republican Congress that ran roughshod over enviros at will. You attribute way too much power to the enviros. I wish we were that powerful.

If you talk to the oil guys, and I do, they’ll tell you there isn’t enough oil in the U.S. “that is affordably accessible” to supply more than a tiny percentage of our needs. The Bakken fields contain a lot of oil but it’s very difficult to extract, the shale oil needs prices well over $100 barrel before that can be profitably produced.

Besides, even if we opened up everything and allowed drilling at will, that would add a small percentage to the market, possibly driving down the price a bit. The result would be more people buying big, grossly inefficient vehicles and wasting more fuel. The additional pollution would cause harm to more innocent people and cost us in additional healthcare. Eventually, the growing demand from China and India who are making and selling millions of internal combustion vehicles themselves, will overwhelm the global production resulting in the price spike everyone knows is coming when global peak hits. At that time, IF we have not been building the electric vehicles and growing that market to a sizable percentage of market share, we’ll be a siting duck. Vast sums of money will flow overseas for whatever oil we can buy, competing with a rich China for those contracts, and our country will be toast.

That is the future those of you who espouse more drilling will bring upon us.

For more on this subject, I suggest you watch this short video:

Everyone in the video has impeccable credentials as national security hawks. They are more conservative than anyone on this blog site. They would disagree with every one of you.

John C. Briggs February 3, 2010 at 6:41 am

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You need to get a special medal for all the patience you have shown on this website.
The disappointing thing is that main stream media now uses thoughtless blogs like this as starting points for discussion and then these types of thoughts get out in the general public.

Toyota’s Mr. Saga’s thoughts have some merit. Electric vehicles have their issues with range and/or cost. What is missing in the discussion is the idea that change is not optional. The future will require either higher efficiency ICE engines, smaller/lighter vehicles, diesels, PHEV, EVs or public transportation. Change is coming and EVs might just be the best alternative. Personally, I am cheering on EVs rather than tearing them down.

As always, predicting the future is difficult. 10 years ago, who would have predicted the large market penetration of HEV. So now few people have the vision to see large market penetration of EVs. 10 years from now, these bloggers will be driving EVs and complaining about the the next perceived threat to their way of life.

John C. Briggs

Paul Scott February 3, 2010 at 8:13 am

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John, thanks for the first sane comment (other than mine) that I’ve seen on this site. I seek out stories on electric vehicles and renewable energy because I know the subject well. It’s inevitable that we will transition to using electricity to replace oil in personal transportation. I talk regularly with Nissan, Mitsubishi, BMW, GM and others about their respective plug-in programs and can assure you the entire auto industry, even Toyota, are racing to get to market with electric vehicles.

I try to find misleading reports, like the original one above to counter the misinformation put out by Toyota and others who are purposefully trying to mislead the public on this subject. For a very good, and entertaining, look at what the auto and oil industries did a few years ago with electric cars, see the film, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”.

John C. Briggs February 3, 2010 at 10:20 am

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Thanks for the feedback. As it happens, I follow the EV news closely and have seen you and your wife in the news along with the great work at Plug-in America. I appreciate your efforts to set the record straight, even in seemingly hopeless cases like this blog.
I work a lot on electricity conservation and am continually amazed how difficult it can be to get people to accept even simple changes like CFLs. Given one or two small issues, they resist changing, even if it saves them money. The main message seems to be “change is bad.” It seems to be wired into the human brain. Probably a survival instinct of some kind.
Advocacy can be a tough calling, and sometimes I don’t think I am cut out for it. It can be exhausting.
Embrace the change people because it is coming whether you like it or not.
John C. Briggs

John C. Briggs February 3, 2010 at 10:21 am

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BTW, I have my solar panels, just waiting for an affordable EV to plug into them. Not all of us can afford a Tesla :).
John C. Briggs

Paul Scott February 3, 2010 at 12:04 pm

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You won’t have too much longer to wait. Nissan is rolling out its Leaf EV this December in several markets (OR, WA, CA, AZ, TX and TN) the rest of the country gets a shot at one in late 2011 or early 2012. The Chevy Volt comes out in CA in November. Ford, Mitsubishi, Volvo, BMW and Mercedes will have plug-in cars in 2011 or 2012. Many new car companies are forming, particularly in China and India that are making only EVs. China’s BYD will bring their plug-in car to the US possibly late this year.

Congrats on the solar. Once people realize they can buy 50 years worth of energy for their EVs with about $10K of today’s dollars, they’ll begin to understand why we’ve been banging the drum of EV/PV for so long.

We surveyed CA EV drivers about 4 years ago and found that 49% of them already were powering their EVs with solar. This compares to less than 1% of the general population. The economics are strongly in favor of EV/PV.

CurtisHx February 3, 2010 at 12:50 pm

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Solar plus EV would work great in an area like SoCal, where it’s sunny almost the whole year. Unfortunately, the rest of the country doesn’t have that luxury. For instance, I have seen the sun all of 8 times since November of last year. Now, I do realize that solar cells can still make power when it’s cloudy, but can they make enough to keep an EV going at a decent cost? Also, what about when the solar panels are covered with snow? It’s a VERY good possibility that most people will place them on the roof, where the snow doesn’t slide off. Don’t get me wrong. Solar is one of the best ways to go, but there are a few things that need to be considered.

Paul Scott February 3, 2010 at 12:59 pm

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Curtis is correct, solar doesn’t work for everybody. You have to have a roof that’s oriented south, SE or SW with little to no shade. Ground mounted systems are also popular where there is enough room without shade.

As for clouds, they will certainly impact production during cloudy seasons, but the overall yearly production is what’s important. I used to live in Eugene, OR where it’s very cloudy from Oct-March, but the rest of the year had great sun. You wouldn’t be able to generate as much as SoCal, but you’d still make money over buying gas. The added benefit is that you’d not have to pay the oil companies another dime. And none of your money would go to the Saudis and their terrorist friends.

John C. Briggs February 3, 2010 at 1:08 pm

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Now Now Paul. No need to paint our Saudis friends with a broad brush.

John C. Briggs February 9, 2010 at 5:21 am

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Well, now Car and Driver is mixing it up.

Fast Forward 2020: The Myth of the EV Future – Feature

John C. Briggs February 3, 2010 at 1:01 pm

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I think I can address both these issues. I live in Boston where it is less sunny. So a 3KW solar system in Boston produces 3000 KWH/year. Where Paul is, out in the Best Coast, he can get 4500 KWH/year. This is 50% more for the same investment. Fortunately, running a car on electricity (2cent/mile) is so much cheaper than running it on gasoline(10cent/mile), that solar is still practical (ignoring for the moment the high cost of the battery in the EV).
As for the snow, this is really not much of an issue. As I have said, I get 3000KWH/year and Paul gets 4500KWH/year. The snow is part of that, but honestly, in the winter, the output is so low anyway, that snow or no snow does not make much difference. Also, with my 30 degree sloped roof, the snow slides easily off the glass solar panels even when it still sticks to the roof. So I don’t worry about snow too much, but I do get less output that people on the Best Coast.
Strangely, when the snow falls off the panels, it tends to do it all at once like an avalanche. There is a tremendous bang. I don’t think you will want to be under it when it lets go. Fortunately for me, it is on the back half of the house.
John C. Briggs

JOHN February 3, 2010 at 10:38 am

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Just an FYI I see a guy now and then in a Prius in the SF area with what appears to be a wind powered generator on the roof. As he drives I assume it helps keep the batteries charged longer. Interesting but ugly concept.

CurtisHx February 3, 2010 at 11:11 am

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Unfortunately, that concept does not work. What’s providing the forward motion that drives the wind generator? The forward motion of the car. What’s driving the car forward? The gas/electric. He’s not gaining anything. Infact, he’s loosing energy. It would be much more effecient to drive the car like it was designed to do. You can never gain energy. You can only convert it from one form to another. And when you convert it, you will ALWAYS loose some it.

John C. Briggs February 3, 2010 at 12:03 pm

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Curtis saved me the trouble of writing this. He is correct.

However, if the guy lives in SF, perhaps he can park in a windy space, take the windmill out of the trunk, set it up next to the car and charge it.

The more I work with renewable energy the more I find that it is difficult/expensive to generate a meaningful amount of energy. I laugh at all these solar panels on “green cars”. They look cool, and give some “green cred” but really they don’t generate meaningful amounts of electricity for a car.
John C. Briggs