Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar 2010

By Bill Moore

Posted: 12 Apr 2010

The Lodge: Torrey Pines Golf Course: Monday: 2:25 PM Pacific Time -- It's a shame that I don't play golf. I would probably be in duffer's Nirvana right now. As it is, I don't play and I really don't give a putt for Tiger Wood's marital problems or how he did on the course this weekend. But I do enjoy beautiful, oceanside surroundings and this is about as fine as it can get.

I am in La Jolla, California as a guest of Toyota for what will be my second Hybrid Seminar; the first being held up the coast in Laguna some four years. Much has changed since then, including the tragic death of Dave Hermance, with whom I had dinner at the first seminar. Irv Miller, then the V.P. of communications for Toyota in North America, has retired, but not before urging the company to go public with its accelerator problems, much to his credit, in my view. Toyota's line of hybrids has gradually expanded from the five then in production to eight, including five Lexus vehicles models.

As I write this, I am about a half an hour away from my time slot to start driving some of the vehicles Toyota has brought down for the event, including the Prius PHV10 I snapped on the I-5 north of San Diego this morning. I was riding with my EV World & Associates partner Sam Smith in his Camry Hybrid. I had spent the night with Sam and his wife Barbara so we could discuss business and just have face time together. Sam is a former U.S. Air Force T-38 and F4 Phantom instructor with a wonderful mental storehouse of tales to tell, including his participation in the air lift rescue to thousands of Cambodian children from Phnom Penh it was being overrun by the Khmer Rouge. We got down to San Diego early enough to visit the local Duffy Electric Boat dealer, Western Yachts. It was my first time to see and go aboard a Duffy electric, and it's a good thing, because we discovered the owner had allowed the batteries on the boat to discharge.

I am not sure what will be covered during the seminar, but I wouldn't be surprised to find journalists asking about Toyota's recalls, government fines, and pending class action lawsuits. Presumably, we'll learn more about their plans for the plug-in Prius and as well as for future hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles.

It is my intention to offer a running commentary of what we learn during the day-and-half event, starting with my test drives here in the next hour. So, check back from time to time to see how the event unfolds.

The Lodge Monday, April 12, 2010 - 5:00 PM -- Just returned from test drive of one of at least a dozen PHV Priuses available for the Ride & Drive. I did two drives, one as the observer and videographer with John Stewart, a freelance journalist and editor of an off-road publication. On the second drive, over the same 10 mile course of both city and highway driving, I drove the vehicle with Amy Taylor from Toyota acting as my guide and camera operator.

Mary Nickerson provided both John and I with a briefing on the car, which is equipped with lithium ion batteries arranged in three packs: a "main" hybrid battery, and two subsystem batteries, each with an average range of around 6-7 miles, for a total of 13-14 miles of 'electric-first' driving range. Like EV World's LIVN GRN plug-in Prius, the packs are situated in the area where the spare tire is normally stowed. (Toyota has substituted a leak plugging kit and portable air compressor in place of the spare tire). While it wasn't possible to inspect the packs, it appears they take up maybe a inch or so of additional height in the rear cargo area, but apart from the charge point cover in front of the driver's door, you would be hard pressed to tell the PHV version from the standard 2010 model. The charge plug on the car is equipped with the J1772 connector capable, Mary explained, of both 110V and 220V charging: the former taking about 3 hours to recharge the three batteries, and roughly half that with the latter voltage.

Driving the car is pretty seamless; the transition from EV mode to hybrid being completely transparent. The only indication that you've switched from one to the other is an icon on the dash display. I was told that the car will cut over between hybrid and EV at around 62 mph, but during my second drive north on the I-5, I slowed the car to 59 mph and it still remained in hybrid mode. Once off the freeway, it immediately returned to EV mode.

Overall, on my test drive, I got 85.1 mpg for the 10 mile trip, compared to the 62.8 mpg we achieved on the first run with John Stewart driving. The difference between the two was John drove a bit faster on the I-5 leg than I did. The ratio of the time I was in EV-mode compared to HEV mode was 56% to 44%. John's drive was 47% versus 53%.

I shot video on both trips that I'll post later on EV World, as well as photos.

Tomorrow will be a full day of talks by various experts on the environment and energy, which I am hoping to also video record, with Toyota's permission. More details forthcoming.

As for the test drive of the PHV Prius, I think the success of this option will depend largely on how Toyota prices it. I am assuming the battery pack, which I quesstimate to be about 4.5kWh, is large enough to qualify for the $2,500 federal tax credit which starts at 4kWh. With the Nissan LEAF qualifying for the full $7,500, which brings its price to just under $26,000, the PHV Prius is going to have to fall somewhere in that zone after its smaller credit allowance, assuming the credit is still applicable when the car becomes available to consumers.

The advantage of the PHV Prius over the LEAF is its freedom from range anxiety. If you forget to plug it in, as my wife did our plug-in Prius last night, you'll still be able to commute to work on time, as well as drive outside the range of the battery pack and charging stations.

So, assuming the price is right, the PHV Prius is will be good introductory electric vehicle for many drivers.

The Lodge Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - 8:30 AM -- Opening of Sustainable Mobility Seminar. Camera set up in good position. Good wireless audio feed. There are a number of other video cameras, including Toyota, which will be netcasting live using UStream.TV. Jana Hartman is the opening speaker announcing launch of new web site. I'll use for moment-by-moment comments.
The Lodge Tuesday, April 13, 2010 - 3:30 PM -- Two panels of PhD's Toyota invited to talk to us today seemed to have arrived at the conclusion that there is no single 'silver bullet' when it comes to sustainable mobility. Almost any fuel or propulsion system you consider has significant environmental, technical or economic obstacles. U of Colorado's Jan Kreider seemed to think that a natural gas fueled hybrid appears to make the most sense of all the alternatives available to us in the current and near term. Of course, there is no CNG fueling infrastructure or CNG hybrids in production, which is problematic. Biofuel diesel and ethanol derived from algae was most promising among biofuel fuel options his group has investigated. Neither Toyota nor a fair share of the panelists sees much of a future for plug-in vehicles for all the usual reasons: technical (chemistry), economics (cost), and environmental (coal-fired electric power) issues.

However, as John O'Dell from Autoblog Green pointed out, the tone of the discussions today was pretty much on what doesn't work. So, what does, he asked? There were no good answers, unfortunately. The consensus seems to be that the IC engine will be with us for many years to come, albeit with significant improvements in efficiency. They may be burning synthetic fuels or perhaps natural gas. Toyota believes that eventually all of its engines will be hybrids, but that small battery packs with widespread public charging will win out over large packs; Nissan's Leaf and Chevy's Volt, not withstanding. All electric cars will remain niche plays, mainly in urban settings, which could still be a significant market since 50 percent of humanity now lives in large metropolitan areas. But here, I think the movement will be towards improved public transit and walkable/bike-able neighborhoods.

I was able to capture virtually all of the day's events on video, which you can expect to see shortly on EV World.

Next week I go to Washington, DC to an event co-sponsored by the Electrification Coalition, which sees a much greater role for electric-drive technology than the general tone of the Toyota event. To its credit, however, Toyota does recognize that the automobile is not the be-all and end-all. It understands that as we move forward into an ever changing world, that there will be the need for new types of mobility solutions beyond the 'horseless carriage' to which we've all become accustomed. It can foresee a time when it doesn't just sell automobiles, but transportation services, whatever those evolve to be.

I had the chance to speak with Bill Reinert from Toyota about the future of electric cars. Significantly, he believes that instead of our designing EVs to mimic IC engine vehicles, that electric cars need to be transformative, perhaps in the spirit of the Aptera 2e, which, coincidentally, I will finally have the chance to see tomorrow when the company holds a press conference in Carlsbad, just 30 minutes north of where I am here in La Jolla.

It should make for an interesting contrast to the Toyota seminar. Anyway, watch more upcoming videos on the seminar and be sure to check out our Twitter feed where I tried to provide a running commentary on today's discussions.

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