Toyota is not giving up on the hydrogen fuel cell technology that powers the Mirai, but is busy working in the background on an all electric car with solid state batteries that offer long range and fast recharging. The plan is to introduce the car, which will be built on an all new chassis, to the Japanese market in 2022. Toyota spokesperson Kayo Doi tells Japanese daily news source Chunichi Shimbun the company will not comment on specific product plans but does intend to commercialize solid state batteries by the early 2020s.
Solid State Batteries Are The Future
No one doubts that solid state batteries are the future. Replacing the liquid electrolyte found in today’s lithium ion batteries will eliminate the risk of fire and explosion associated with current battery technology. That danger, while low, remains a concern for many people considering the purchase of an electric car.
To limit such risks, electric cars today must use sophisticated cooling systems to stabilize the temperature inside battery packs. Such systems add cost, weight, and bulk to the cars. Solid state batteries will not need such elaborate cooling systems, which will help bring down the cost of building an electric car. As an added bonus, they are capable of being recharged in much less time than a conventional lithium ion battery.
Researchers such as John Goodenough have been trying to build a robust, inexpensive solid state battery for decades. Toyota saying it will do so is one thing. Actually doing it is quite another. Israeli startup StoreDot says it has a solid state battery with a range of 300 miles that recharges in 5 minutes. Henrik Fisker claims his new EMotion electric car will go more than 400 miles on a single charge and then recharge in just 9 minutes. That car is set to hit the road in 2019.
New Electric Car Division At Toyota
Toyota created a new partnership last year that combines talent from Toyota Industries Corporation, Aisin Seiki Company, Denso Corporation, and Toyota Motor Company to design an electric car. The slimmed down unit began life with only 4 people — one from each corporatation — in order to trim bureaucratic “noise” and produce quick results.
Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda said at the time, “Over these past few years, which we have positioned for strengthening our planting of seeds for the future, we have taken such measures as establishing the Toyota Research Institute, made Daihatsu a fully owned subsidiary, and have begun work to established an internal company responsible for compact vehicles for emerging markets. The new organizational structure for EVs is a part of this effort. As a venture company that will specialize in its field and embrace speed in its approach to work, it is my hope that it will serve as a pulling force for innovation in the work practices of Toyota and the Toyota Group.”
China Wags The Dog
Stirring words. Now to see how they translate into reality. Toyota, like all major car makers, is focused on the booming automobile market in China. It plans to introduce an electrified version of its C-HR sport utility vehicle using conventional lithium ion batteries there in 2019, spurred in part by the insistence of the Chinese government that at least 10% of the new cars sold in the country be EVs by that date. It also brought its highly imaginative Concept-i to the 2017 CES show in Las Vegas last January.
Toyota’s goal of building electric cars by 2022 is laudable, but a lot of water will have gone under the bridge by that time and the rest of the world’s automakers will not be sitting on their hands in the meantime. It would not be smart to count Toyota out, but their horse for the EV sweepstakes is more than a little late leaving the barn.