Toyota's Chief Scientist Says The World Isn't Ready For EVs

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Like many in the Toyota camp, Gill Pratt doesn't think EVs should be rushed.

Toyota's stance on electric vehicles has been in sharp contrast to many other major players in the industry. While the brand finally has a modern EV in the form of the bZ4X, it is still electrifying its lineup at a slow pace. Last year, the company's CEO warned that a sudden transition to EVs at the expense of internal combustion could damage Japan's economy, and more recently, it said that it's important to give customers in different regions the choice of an EV or a conventionally-powered vehicle. This school of thought isn't unique to Toyota's CEO. Gill Pratt, CEO of the Toyota Research Institute, also believes the future of automobiles won't begin and end with EVs, suggesting that too many people have succumbed to the hype of electric-only propulsion.

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Pratt is evidently an intelligent man, also boasting the titles of chief scientist and executive fellow for research at Toyota. He was even the robotics and computing lead for the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency at one point. Pratt believes that the climate crisis is a serious threat but that a sudden move to only EVs isn't best for the planet, either.

"Lithium ion batteries aren't without consequence," said Pratt when speaking to Autocar. "They're made using rare, mined materials - in contrast, an engine is made using more common materials - and weigh a lot. The grid energy mix is also variable around the world." He further went on to say that "cradle to grave," plug-in hybrids and full electrics are very close.

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Currently, he picks PHEVs as the better choice, and he uses his wife's own Tesla to prove his point. "I can talk about that from experience. My wife and I bought a Tesla Model X, because we're good friends with a chief engineer on that car. It's an incredible car. But my wife used it to commute 30 miles a day, which meant 90% of the battery wasn't being used most of the time. We were just dragging all this weight, all these raw materials, around."

"We all know that we're in an era of limited battery supply. Well, couldn't those battery cells have been used for a better purpose in eight PHEVs like the Toyota RAV4 Prime, where the battery capacity would have contributed to much more total emissions savings on almost every journey?"

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Although he admits that zero emissions vehicles are important, he says that "the whole world won't arrive there at the same time…BEVs aren't the right answer for the whole world right now. They are for certain parts of the world but not everywhere." Pratt said that zero tailpipe emissions don't equate to zero overall emissions in light of new infrastructure and the availability of raw materials.

Like others in the Toyota camp, he sees a danger in the company building many EVs that customers simply won't buy because the charging infrastructure in their region isn't ready. Recently, Ford CEO Jim Farley said that its charging infrastructure isn't up to scratch, and this comes at a time when the percentage of EVs on the road is still minimal in comparison to ICE cars.

2021-2022 Toyota Mirai Front Angle View CarBuzz / Ian Wright
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2021-2022 Toyota Mirai Engine CarBuzz / Ian Wright

Pratt said that regions like Norway and other parts of Europe have enough green energy and charging infrastructure to support EVs, but this simply isn't the case everywhere else. In summary, Pratt views a "diversity of options as a strength, rather than a weakness. CO2 is the enemy, not a particular drivetrain type." That diversity is reflected in Toyota's continued development of hydrogen power for vehicles like the Mirai.

This gradual approach to reducing emissions may see Toyota sell fewer EVs than rival brands such as Volkswagen over the next decade, but the Japanese giant could end up being the one building the cars that its customers around the world actually need.

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Source Credits: Autocar

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