Battery Triage — HEV or PHEV or BEV?

Toyota claims that by producing 900,000 conventional hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), it has effectively produced and sold the equivalent of 300,000 BEVs. Whether this is true or not, I will leave the mathematicians and the wise ones who understand the battery chemistry way better than I do to chime in. I just wonder if Toyota is really engaged in battery triage for the greater good of humanity.

For the newcomers, a HEV is a traditional hybrid electric vehicle which runs a petrol engine which charges a battery which drives an electric drivetrain (think: Prius). It cannot be plugged in. A PHEV is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. It has petrol and an electric drivetrain. All-electric range, before the petrol engine starts running, varies from vehicle to vehicle. It can be plugged in. A BEV is a 100% battery electric vehicle. It has a plug but cannot be filled with petrol.

What concerns me is more the question: with the constant announcements of better and cheaper batteries and the opening of more and more gigafactories, do we have to engage in battery use triage? We are not short of lithium, or many other essential elements. If we are, the mining companies, with their eyes on future facing commodities, are racing to fill this lucrative gap.
Why the hesitation on Toyota’s part? Is it profit seeking from outdated technology? Is it misplaced hope in future technology (hydrogen cars, solid state batteries)? Or is it simply hubris? Can Toyota cope with being a follower — lagging behind Tesla, Volkswagen, and BYD? Even Honda is now steering toward BEVs.

According to The Guardian: “At … the launch of the Toyota Corolla Cross hybrid SUV in Sydney, Sean Hanley, vice-president of sales and marketing at Toyota Australia, expressed frustration over claims Toyota had slowed the transition to electric, citing the company’s early embrace of hybrids. ‘What we’re disagreeing on is … how and when you get there.’ Hanley argued Toyota has not received credit for helping to reduce emissions with the introduction of its hybrid vehicles and stressed the company is ‘not stopping, lagging or preventing [electric cars]’.” 

Every monthly sales figure coming out of Europe sees a decrease in HEVs and PHEVs and an increase in BEVs. Rethink Energy projects that the transition to electric will only accelerate:

Global EV Fleet projections

Global EV fleet projections, courtesy of Rethink Energy.

Toyota has done a great job in the past. Now it is time to follow, or get out of the way — it can no longer lead.


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