Toyota On The Future Of Electric Vehicles

press conference amluxHave you ever wondered what goes on at a press question time? I imagine my life is a bit of a superhero fantasy for you. You would love the life of an editor-at-large, travelling the globe, grabbing the exclusives, asking the hard questions. Admit it, you would, wouldn’t you. Sure, I may be embellishing the truth a bit in order to convince myself that I’ve made the right life choice but whatever, just play along will you! Please? Thanks.

I’ve just walked out of a press question time held by Toyota at its AMLUX showroom in Tokyo with Yutaka Matsumoto — Project General Manager, R&D Management Division. It was all about its electric vehicles and the plans for the future of motoring. When I say walked I really mean stumbled as I haven’t had anything to eat yet, am still in a jet lagged haze and lack certain coordination skills anyway.

Rather than writing up an awesome story for you (which I could, trust me), I thought I would give it to you in the blogging form of interpretive dance. That would be the actual questions journalists asked and the answers they got. I won’t tell you who asked what, but the cream of Australia’s motoring journalists were there, so these are certainly the money shots. Enjoy. Oh, and if you have any follow ups, let me know in the comments and I’ll try to get them answered by the Toyota reps and other journos that are on the trip with me. Promise. Oh, and that would be me on the right of man in dark blue shirt. Hi.

Q: Electric vehicles will be sold in the States in 2012. How long until the rest of the world gets them? A: Nothing has been decided about electric vehicles outside of the US plans. The market has limited uses so expansion is not yet fully planned.

Q: What is the plan for Hilux, Land Cruiser and large commercial vehicles in terms of being more environmentally friendly? A: I’m afraid individual details on specific models cannot be given right now.

Q: When will hybrids become priced competitively with standard fuel cars? A: Prices have come down significantly since Toyota first released the Prius a while ago now. They are almost in line with standard fuel cars and their consumption makes them great value.

Q: What are Toyota’s plans for diesel in the future. Is it still relevant? A: Diesel will be for trucks and large commercial vehicles that must have strong and powerful torque. Diesel is also used extensively in passenger cars but we think emissions from diesel have to be cleaned further and that’s what we are trying to do.

Q: What are the costs to have diesel emissions reduced? Are they more expensive than hybrid development? A: It really depends on the segment and model. It varies. On a basic comparison, diesel is the more expensive system but that is a very basic comparison.

Q: Is Toyota going to continue with diesel development and what does it see as a better alternative: diesel or hybrid? A: It’s a close match when you compare it in a basic sense. At some times hybrid can be more cost effective than diesel but there are challenges — mainly the commercial and large vehicle segment. There, diesel is a needed technology and it won’t disappear. It has to continue in those segments. In Europe there is less and less incentive for diesel fuel but it still appeals to customers so even there the market will continue to exist.

Q: What is considered short-range for electric vehicles? You mention that they are only for short-range trips right now. A: In 2012, the cruising range will be 80km. This is the vehicle that will be put into the US in 2012. By 2020 the government target wants performance to go up by 2.5 times but that will be very difficult.

Q: What will the price of electric vehicles in the States be by comparison to the Prius? And how long until we can purchase a plug-in electric car? A: Price is still in the process of being finalised. Development is not finalised yet so we can’t have a stab at the price. We expect that, on a limited basis, plug-ins will be available at the end of this year. We will be looking for feedback after that and then will make future decisions based on that.

And that’s a wrap for question time. Being that the room was filled with Portuguese speaking journalists as well as English speakers, and the speaker was speaking Japanese, I think it all worked out quite well for the most part.

Damian Francis is the editor-at-large for Australian T3 and contributing technology editor for GQ Australia. He is in Japan as a guest of Toyota Australia.