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Prius Founder Questions Future of Electric Vehicles

Toyota Motor Corp. Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, who helped develop the world's most popular hybrid-electric vehicle, questioned the ability of pure electric vehicles to supplant petroleum-fueled vehicles because of battery and charging challenges.
October 4, 2013, 8am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Uchiyamada spoke to reporters after an address at the Economic Club of Washington on Sept. 30. Howard Schneider writes that according to Uchiyamada, "the technical barriers to better battery life and performance are real...and are not on the verge of disappearing".

There will need to be “two breakthroughs to see the age of electric vehicles” — one to increase the distance that cars can drive on a charge and one to reduce that charging time, he told the group.

Notwithstanding those twin challenges, Toyota will continue to invest in battery technology by "working on a next-generation battery, aimed for completion in 2020, that could make hybrids even more efficient or extend the range of fully electric vehicles beyond their typical few dozen miles on a charge."

Toyota's commitment to hybrid-electric technology is unwavering. In five years, hybrids "could account for more than half of the company’s U.S. sales", Uchiyamada said. 

Jeff Siegel of Energy & Capital, a self-proclaimed "long-time and loyal fan of electric cars", writes that Toyota's hybrid's dominate U.S. roads - capturing over 70% of the hybrid market. Toyota held the top three model lines for hybrids last year, according to as written in Fox News Business on Sept. 28.

In California, the Prius was the top-selling vehicle last year, "topping perennial winners like the Toyota Camry and Ford F-150 pickup", writes Kelly Johnson in the Sacramento Business Journal in July. Nevertheless, Siegel appears to agree with Uchiyamada's opinion on the future for EVs.

The Toyota chairman also gave his opinion on three related topics: Tesla, fuel cell vehicles, and driverless cars.

  • Tesla doesn't present a business challenge "because its price is far too high for the vehicle to become a widespread replacement for gas."
  • Mike Ramsey of The Wall Street Journawrote about Uchiyamada's commitment to fuel cell technology: "I personally expect a lot from this hydrogen fuel cell technology. If government and industry work together, this might be part of the long-term solution," he said.  "The advantage of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles are that they create no pollution but can be refueled quickly and have a range similar to that of gasoline-powered vehicles", writes Ramsey.
  • Uchiyamada is not "convinced that driverless cars and networked highways will take over anytime soon." That said, the company "is using things such as radar systems and object recognition to add new safety features to its vehicles," he said, but the technology that will allow cars to talk to each other and coordinate their motions is far from proven.

For a more optimistic perspective on the future of EVs, read a Sept. 24 blog from Don Anair, the Union of Concerned Scientist's research and deputy director, clean cars: "Record News for the Climate: Electric Vehicles Posting Record Sales Across the Nation".

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Published on Monday, September 30, 2013 in The Washington Post
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