Toyota's Koei Saga Sees Limits of Electric Cars

Despite increasing battery research efforts, prospects for long-range electric cars in doubt.

Published: 17-Jan-2010

DETROIT -- Although Toyota is the world leader in producing fuel-efficient hybrid cars, and it has plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid and a battery-powered city car (versions of both were on the stand at the auto show here), the company has been outspoken about the limitations of some green-vehicle technologies. It’s been particularly vocal about the drawbacks of plug-in hybrids.

At the auto show this week, Toyota held a news conference with Koei Saga, managing officer of the Toyota Motor Corporation with responsibility for advanced technology and battery development. Mr. Saga announced that Toyota had set up a research division with 50 engineers to develop advanced lithium-ion batteries for its plug-in hybrids.

But Mr. Saga harbors considerable doubt about the current prospects for long-distance battery-only cars. He said (through a translator) that limited range means that E.V.’s work best as “very small commuter-type vehicles” for use in major metropolitan areas (he used Europe and Japan as examples). Asked if longer-range E.V.’s were possible with current technology, he said that could happen only “if we forget about battery life and if we forget about the cost incurred for replacement of those batteries.”

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