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Why Did Toyota Develop the eQ?

It shouldn’t come as too great a surprise that Toyota scaled back plans this week to manufacture the battery-powered eQ city sedan. The question is: why did a carmaker that has always been skeptical of EVs invest in the eQ in the first place?

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs,” said Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota’s vice chairman and the engineer who oversees vehicle development, on Monday, “whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge.”

But Uchiyamada, who led Toyota’s development of the Prius hybrid in the 1990s, must have had a hunch that would be the case.

At an appearance last year in Chicago, a key member of Uchiyamada’s team—Prius designer Bill Reiner—expressed doubt that all-electric vehicles could ever succeed—because of the cost and weight of the battery, and the comparative energy density of fossil fuels:

“In a Prius, in an 18-pound gas tank that’s 450 bucks, I can get you 600 miles or thereabouts,” said Reinert, the national manager of Toyota’s Advanced Technologies Group. “In an electric car, the battery is somewhere around $15,000 to $25,000 and it will take you about 100 miles, maybe, on a good day if it’s not too cold and not too hot. There’s a giant difference in energy density.”

Batteries lose capacity over time, so to avoid battery failure, electric-car manufacturers make batteries twice as large, and twice as heavy, as the car really needs, Rieinert said: As a result, much of the power in the battery is spent transporting the battery.

Much of the cost derives from the battery as well.


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