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For a long time, Toyota has been reluctant to embrace the concept of electric vehicles.
Sure, they were early adopters of hybrid technology, their extremely popular Prius becoming the darling of the eco-warrior and celebrity tree-hugging communities long ago. However, they have steadfastly refused to get deep into pure EV territory.
There are a number of theories that have been proposed to explain this tardiness on the part of Toyota. Perhaps, as the manufacturer of what are largely regarded as the world's most reliable ICE vehicles they felt it important to keep playing to their strengths. Perhaps they were just waiting for the technologies to mature a little more.
Well whatever the reasons, it seems that now they've decided to take the plunge into propper EVs.
It's unclear whether they'll be continuing with their Mirai hydrogen fuel-cell based vehicles as well but their commitment to BEVs has now been announced.
Of course the fact that they were actually making hydrogen-fueled vehicles might speak to some kind of hook-up with the petroleum industry. Many petroleum companies have been pushing for H2 to become the "green" fuel of the future. Of course this is not a selfless move on the part of big-oil, it's simply a way for it to maintain an essential revenue-stream when ICE vehicles go the way of the dinosaur.
Despite what they might say, H2 derived from methane is *not* a "clean green" fuel at all. Once you take the two hydrogen molecules out of a molecule of methane, you're left with an inconvenient carbon atom which has an affinity to bond with oxygen and produce carbon monoxide or carbon dioxide -- two gasses which are not particularly popular in the world of the eco-warrior.
So, at least for the time being, battery EVs (BEVs) are the future and now even Toyota seem to have realised that.
As you might expect from the world's largest and arguably most successful car makers, Toyota aren't going about this half-arsed either. They are planning to spend US$13.5 billion to develop some new EV battery tech by the end of the decade.
All of this will only be good news for consumers. With most of the other big-name car makers already rolling out EVs, Toyota's entry to the party will likely be well received.
However, the company does risk losing its major selling point -- the perception that Toyotas are more reliable than other brands. We're already seeing that EVs are, mainly due to their simplicity, already very reliable vehicles. If other brands are "reliable enough", Toyota may have to find a new point of distinction to sustain its brand in to the next decade or two.
This perhaps explains why they're throwing so much money at developing new battery tech, for the deciding factors for many new EV purchasers will be range and safety.
Right now, conventional lithium-ion batteries are really the only choice for BEVs. They offer "adequate" range and safety. However, if Toyota (or anyone else) can come up with battery tech that significantly increases either of these important factors, without adversely impacting the other, that would give them a very clear advantage in the market.
Soon I will be ashamed to be driving my old 1994 Toyota ute around -- spewing the toxic gaseous remains of long-dead dinosaurs into the air we breathe. Hmmm... I guess I'd better start saving for a very second-hand Nissan Leaf with 2% battery capacity left and a couple of AA cells in the glove-box for emergencies :-)
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