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USA: Toyota, Duke to test electric-vehicle technology in Indiana

Toyota Motor Corp. will test and refine electric-vehicle-charging technology in the Indianapolis area under a partnership with Duke Energy Corp. announced Wednesday morning.

“This is an opportunity to deepen the relationship with Toyota, to work on R&D,” said Paul Mitchell, president and CEO of Energy Systems Network, an Indianapolis-based not-for-profit clean-technology initiative involved in the project.

Toyota’s primary work in Indiana has involved vehicle manufacturing in Princeton and in Lafayette. Though the amount of research and development in this pilot program is modest, economic development officials hope it could spur other such efforts here by automotive companies.

Toyota’s pilot program in the metro area, to begin early next year, involves five Prius plug-in vehicles driven by Duke Energy customers.

Toyota will make Indianapolis its primary test location in North America of a common standard involving how electric vehicles and their charging stations communicate with electric utilities.

The system will allow motorists to choose their own charging strategy, such as charging during off-peak hours, when electric rates are cheaper. A large amount of electric utility tariff data is being compiled and will be used as part of the pilot.

“Smart charging through two-way communication with utilities will not only be a benefit to the customers but is crucial for the promotion of transportation electrification,” Edward Mantey, a vice president at Toyota Technical Center, said in a prepared statement.

Though Toyota has conducted much of its plug-in interface work in Japan, “they wanted to do something in North America to validate the technology,” Mitchell said.

The Society of Automotive Engineers recently developed a communication protocol between vehicles, charging stations and utility companies. This is considered the first big test of that protocol.

Focus groups have shown consumers don’t want to have to worry about determining the best times to charge their cars,” said Sue O’Leary, associate project director for Duke Energy.

The technology being tested should allow consumers “to put the charging in the back of the mind. They want to plug it in when they get home and not have to worry about it.”

Communication could occur over the Internet or via “smart,” two-way electric meters that utilities are installing in their networks.
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