Toyota announces plan to end launch of second all-electric car

The Toyota Corporation has now announced that electric vehicles (EVs) don’t make financial sense at this point. Toyota Vice Chair Takeshi Uchiyamada, also head of Toyota Research and Development, announced in Japan that the company was ending plans for a volume launch of its second all-electric car, the eQ. Uchiyamada said that Toyota hopes for only 2,600 sales worldwide of its other EV, a RAV4 version, over the next three years.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs or how it takes a long time to charge,” said Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota’s development of the Prius hybrid in the 1990s.

Toyota also has just begun a new advertising campaign for its Prius family of hybrids in the United States, showing them traversing a pristine landscape and emphasizing that there’s a right Prius for everyone. And as Forbes Magazine noted, “By implication, a right EV for just about no one.”

In August 2009, President Barack Obama went to Elkhart County, Ind., to announce $2.4 billion in grants “to develop the next generation of fuel-efficient cars and trucks powered by the next generation of batteries.”

A major argument for the EV was the reduction of emissions, especially the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. It’s worth comparing the emissions from the three major automobile types: standard internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEs), hybrids like the Prius and Ford Fusion and the zero emission all electrics (EVs).

We’ll assume 12,000 miles per year with a mix of winter and summer city and highway driving. Today’s average ICE car and light truck will consume about 550-600 gasoline gallons per year, and emit 11,000 pounds. (5.5 tons of carbon dioxide or nine-tenths pound of carbon dioxide per mile.)

Hybrids are averaging a little more than  twice the mpg of ICEs, so their emissions average 5,000 pounds per year, or four-tenths a pound of carbon dioxide per mile.

The EVs don’t emit while running, but they transfer the emissions to the power plants that provide the electrons, which charged their batteries. If the electron source is from non-emitting sources like nuclear, wind, hydro and solar, the EVs can be considered near-zero emission. But those clean sources currently provide just 30 percent of U.S. electric power demand.

The Department of Energy figures tell us that the overall mix of the U.S. grid emits 1.4 pounds of carbon dioxide per kilowatt hour delivered. Under all conditions with radio and air conditioning, EVs get about 3-3.5 miles per kilowatt hour. This equates to four-tenths a pound of carbon dioxide per mile. So driving an EV results in similar carbon dioxide emissions as driving a hybrid and a saving of about half the emissions from driving the conventional ICE.

Government-supported research has been important in developing the early growth of many of our major industries, including computers, aircraft, the Internet, nuclear power, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, etc. In my opinion, the problem occurs with premature large scale implementation such as the Solyndra solar or Range Fuels cellulose biofuels, or efforts like $465 million for the Tesla Model S EV, billion dollar solar and wind farms and $2.4 billion in stimulus funding for unproven electric cars.

Public policy shines best in support of new technology and basic energy research, but its glow dims when it tries to force large-scale implementation of unproven processes with uncertain markets.