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Chief Toyota engineer sees no practical future for electric cars

Thu 16 Apr 2015

A leading engineer at Toyota Motor has today opined that battery-powered electric cars do not have a practical future when positioned as an alternative to conventional vehicles, despite technological advancements continually improving charging times.

Experts have suggested that developing ways which will allow electric vehicles (EVs) to be charged at a quicker rate would help boost the popularity of models such as Mitshubishi’s i-MiEV and The Nissan Leaf. However Toyota’s deputy chief engineer Yoshikazu Tanaka, who helped design the Japanese company’s hydrogen fuel cell car Mirai, believes that improving charging technology will only result in energy being used at such a rate that it will reverse any good intent EV held as an environmentally-sound alternative.

“If you were to charge a car in 12 minutes for a range of 500 km (310 miles), for example, you’re probably using up electricity required to power 1,000 houses,” he explained during a presentation at the first test drive event for the Mirai production version. “That totally goes against the need to stabilize electricity use on the grid,” Tanaka added.

Currently lengthy charging times are driving potential customers away from market-available EV vehicles. For example, Nissan’s Leaf takes around eight hours to charge completely at a 200-volt charging point, which would give a driver approximately 84 miles of driving range.

“Toyota isn’t denying the benefits of EVs […] But we think the best way to use them is to charge them at night (to avoid peak power consumption hours), and use them for short distances during the day,” said Tanaka.

Toyota instead will continue to promote its hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (FCVs) which it claims will promise the greenest alternative to conventional transportation due to their similar refuel speeds and driving range. Although these cars will require great investment, Tanaka argued that in the long-term hydrogen will be the preferred option thanks to its portability, abundancy and storability compared to electricity.

“Of course, there are technological hurdles that need to be cleared to make this commercially viable,” concluded Tanaka. “But remember ‘Back to the Future’? In that movie, a car from 30 years in the future comes back to the present — the year 1985 […] The Mirai doesn’t fly, but this year, 2015, is that future.”


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