Toyota hybrid tech looking toward the futureWed, 25 Sep 2013 00:00:00 -0700
Toyota continues to build momentum as a leader of the hybrid industry. At an inaugural event held in Ypsilanti, Mich., the brand brought together all of the Toyota and Lexus hybrid vehicles from the Japanese, American, and European markets.
In a display by Toyota representatives, presentations started with a quick look back at the infancy of the company's hybrid program, starting with the first-generation Prius in 1997. Toyota representatives spoke about the future of the brand and about the hybrid market, specifically the Prius brand. What started primarily as a gamble on the Prius, has now come to be an essential part of the Toyota brand.
Managing officer Satoshi Ogiso made remarks to the future of the hybrid program and the upcoming release of the fourth-gen Prius.
“Our next generation of hybrids will feature improved batteries with higher density,” Ogiso said, adding that research and development funds have greatly increased for nickel-metal hydride and lithium-ion batteries.
While batteries remain cumbersome in the realm of hybrids -- a fear to consumers and a real challenge to manufactures -- Ogiso claims, “The next-generation Prius, specifically, will combine our advance battery technologies with new electric motors that are smaller in size, and feature improved power density.”
Like any technology, it comes at a price -- size and cost -- yet with advances in manufacturing and technology both become less burdensome upon the end consumer, much like our cellular devices and home computers. In reality, the smaller, higher density batteries paired with smaller electric motors are elemental for greater distances.
“The current Prius motor provides four times the power density of the first. The next Prius power density will be even higher,” Ogiso said. Toyota also claims to be working toward advancements with solid state and lithium air batteries, “devoting resources to new chemistries beyond lithium, such as magnesium and other low valence materials.”
As for the next-generation Prius, the fourth since 1997, it comes with some bolstering claims from Ogiso about the thermal efficiency. Thermal efficiency is the measure of performance that in turn results in a tangible number of energy conversion, or efficiency, in the thermodynamics department. The current Prius internal combustion engine has a thermal efficiency of 38.5 percent. Ogiso claims that “the new engine in the next Prius will be more than 40 percent. A world's best.” With a six-year interval (the first generation Prius in 1997, second in 2003 and the third in 2009), the date remains unknown, but Ogiso made hints toward the release year following the same progression.
Batteries aside, Toyota is looking to create new technologies to ease consumer use with the next generation Prius plug-in.
“We are developing a new wireless/inductive charging system that produces resonance between an on-floor coil and an on-board coil to recharge the battery without the fuss of a cable,” he said. With testing of this system planned to arrive in the U.S., Japan and European markets in 2014. Similar charging technology can even be seen now in wireless charging pads used for cellular devices.
In addition, Toyota is working toward the next generation of fuel cell vehicles. “Hydrogen will be in our future for a long time,” he said, adding that, “Toyota's first commercially available hydrogen fuel cell vehicle will go on sale in global markets in 2015.”
With a final note, Ogiso said he anticipates that within the next 15 years, plug-in hybrids, battery electrics and hydrogen fuel cells, “could be as common as hybrids are today.”
With consumer woes following pitfalls of other hybrid/electric vehicles, the constant remains the same, there still are so many questions left unanswered for the future of hybrid, electric and fuel cell technologies. Don't get us wrong, save the trees and the environment, but we still prefer our burners any day of the week.
By Brad Wiley