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Ash Corson
Advanced Business Strategy
Toyota Motor North America, Inc.

Feature Story: Electric Avenue


One of the questions I’m most frequently asked is, “When will electric cars become mainstream?” To which I invariably reply, “They already are.”

The electrification of the automobile is arguably the greatest force transforming our industry. Appearing as early as the 1800’s, electricity has served us increasingly well across the automotive spectrum, giving rise to continuous advances in lighting, ignition, communications, processing, propelling, regenerating, all manner of efficiencies, and more. Today, electricity—along with the connectivity and autonomy that it enables—is powering the industry’s transformation toward a new paradigm of sustainable mobility for all.

So, electrification is with us, it’s pervasive, and it’s transformative. And it’s also a core strength of what we do at Toyota.

From the launch of our very first hybrid-electric Prius 20 years ago, to the introduction of our fuel cell electric Mirai in 2014, Toyota has helped pioneer the path to electrification, providing a range of environmentally preferable products intelligently engineered to meet our customers’ diverse needs via varying levels of electric generation, regeneration and propulsion.

This layering, or stratification, of electrification is perhaps best illustrated by its efficiency and emissions benefits. If we begin with a vehicle powered by a conventional gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine, adding an initial layer of electrification via a regenerative braking, battery and motor system enables virtuous reductions in fuel consumption, engine size and harmful emissions. An example of this hybrid-electric approach is the class-leading 2017 Toyota Prius, with its impressive available 54 mpg city EPA rating, incredibly efficient 1.8L engine, and Super-Ultra-Low-Emissions output.

Adding a second level of electrification—in the form of expanded battery, electric motor, power control and operating capabilities—enables even greater efficiency and emissions gains. An example of a vehicle incorporating such advantages is the all-new Toyota Prius Prime advanced hybrid-electric, which allows customers to fuel either conventionally or electrically, with the ability to operate on battery power alone for up to 25 miles of zero emissions driving. In a showcase of its versatility, the Prius Prime offers owners an EPA-estimated 133 MPGe efficiency and 640 miles of total driving range.

Highest on our efficiency scale is the third stratum of electrification—pure electric vehicles. These completely replace carbon-emitting internal combustion engines with electric motors to provide silent, smooth, clean propulsion. Traditional pure electric vehicles are powered by batteries upsized to provide sufficient performance, range and longevity. An example of such a battery-electric vehicle is the i-Road concept vehicle, which is being used in ongoing demonstration programs in Japan and France.

An even more promising form of pure electric mobility is the fuel cell electric vehicle, such as the trailblazing Toyota Mirai. Vehicles like the Mirai utilize hydrogen to generate their own electricity onboard, while emitting nothing but water vapor from the tailpipe. Fuel cell electrics overcome many issues associated with battery electrics – lengthy recharging times, reduced range, diminished performance and lower infrastructure throughput. Fuel cell vehicles do require hydrogen fueling stations1, but 31 such stations already exist in California to serve a growing population of thousands of vehicles. More hydrogen fueling stations are under development with the prioritized support of the state, and station development in the Northeast is also underway. For fundamental reasons such as these, our fuel cell electric vehicle program — based on our core, layered, hybrid-technology strength — is a central pillar in Toyota’s pursuit of sustainable mobility (see Figure 1).

1 Station count as of September 2017.


F1 / Toyota’s Global Electrification Strategy

FG 01

Perhaps the most exciting aspect of fuel-cell-driven electrification, however, is its scalability. The need to reduce emissions across the transportation, commercial and community sectors is dramatic, increasing and global. And where these sectors converge, such as in the teeming goods-movement port communities and their surrounding regions all over the world, this emissions issue has become critical.

A key means of addressing this problem is to electrify commercial freight transport, converting aging and polluting heavy-duty diesel fleets to pure, zero emissions, electric propulsion. And with our pioneering Project Portal Class 8 truck fuel cell feasibility study at the Los Angeles ports, Toyota is helping demonstrate that heavy-duty fuel cell electrics—with their range, weight, performance, refueling time, cargo capacity and infrastructure scalability advantages over battery-electrics—have the potential to be the optimal solution for electrifying – and revolutionizing – global transport.

This potential is visually summarized in Figure 2 below. Overall, fuel-cell electric vehicles offer a compelling combination of market and societal benefits, particularly at scale, and are, therefore, a core of Toyota’s layered, customer-needs-based portfolio approach to electrification.

F2 / Electrification via Hydrogen Fuel Cell is a Compelling Combination

H2 supply, scalability & renewability potential = good fit for ZEV freight transport

FG 02
BEV: Short-distance, HV & PHV:Wide-use, FCEV: Medium-to-long distance

So, in summary, when someone asks you, “When will electric cars become mainstream? And how is Toyota participating?” you’ll be able to smile and reply, “They already are, and we’re helping lead the way.”

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