The brand is playing catch up in an industry it started.
Toyota was one of the earliest carmakers to brings us gas-electric hybrids like the Prius. But since then it's been lagging behind the auto electrification industry that it created. Today at a media and investors meeting, it told us how it was going to change that. By 2030 the Japanese giant will spend more than $13.5 billion to develop batteries and battery supply systems.
The company has the hybrid and plug-in game locked down; it even has one of the two hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on the road in the Mirai sedan. And in fairness, it built a RAV4 EV in the '90s and then brought it back for two years in 2012. But right now, with automakers as diverse as Ford and Polestar making all-electric vehicles, Toyota needs to make a move.
Toyota wants to cut the cost of its batteries by 30% using more readily available materials and changing the way it structures the cells. It also wants to improve efficiency. "Then, for the vehicle, we aim to improve power consumption, which is an indicator of the amount of electricity used per kilometer, by 30%, starting with the Toyota bZ4X," said chief technology officer Masahiko Maeda.
"It is known that each battery cell shows signs of localized abnormal heat generation during spirited driving or other driving that places a large load on the battery," said Maeda. "By analyzing the phenomena occurring inside the battery and conducting a vast amount of model experiments, we have been able to clarify the effect of driving style on the battery, as well as the mechanism of this effect. Based on the results, we have been able to detect signs of abnormal local heating of cells through multiple monitoring of voltage, current, and temperature of individual cells, blocks of cells, and the entire battery pack," Maeda continued. "The battery is then controlled to prevent abnormal heat generation."
The one place Toyota does seem to be ahead is in the adoption of solid-state batteries. It has plans to start producing them this decade for public consumption and is already putting some in one of its cars.
Solid-state batteries can hold about double the energy of liquid batteries and charge in about half the time. They're also safer than the chemical soup batteries.
"We are developing all-solid-state batteries to see if we can bring out the joy in such things as high output, long cruising range, and shorter charging times," said Maeda. "In June last year, we built a vehicle equipped with all-solid-state batteries, conducted test runs on a test course, and obtained driving data. Based on that data, we continued to make improvements. And in August last year, we obtained license plate registration for vehicles equipped with all-solid-state batteries and conducted test drives."
To stop climate change, or at least mitigate it, we need our best, brightest and most well-funded companies doing the research and development. Now that Volkswagen, Mercedes and Toyota are all in, we're in much better shape going forward than we were ten years ago. And we're betting the next big breakthrough comes in soon.