The third annual Meeting of the Minds summit on environmental issues was held in New York City for two days last week. The event bills itself as a “leadership summit [that] brings together 130+ policy-makers, opinion-shapers and thought-leaders from commercial, non-profit and public sector organizations.” The goal of the summit is to bring together all these groups for “2 days of intensive exchange for leaders creating more sustainable cities using smarter design tools, sounder environmental practices, and cleaner energy systems.”
This year, Toyota was once again the lead sponsor of the event and had two of its executives give presentations. It was clear that Toyota has some major doubts about the technology in current plug-in vehicles and is honest about the challenges in mass producing such vehicles. Toyota will soon begin leasing an initial 500 Prius-based hybrids at different locations around the world. According to the Wheels Blog:
Irv Miller, Toyota’s group vice president of environmental and public affairs, said in New York that after the batteries are depleted on a plug-in hybrid they become a heavy “boat anchor” until the car can be recharged from a wall outlet. He also expressed reservations about achieving the level of battery durability that can be guaranteed with a long-term warranty.
In his presentation and a subsequent interview, [national manager of advanced technology Bill Reinhert] cast doubt on plug-in cars achieving the 100-m.p.g. claimed by some aftermarket conversions. The extra weight resulting from larger battery packs, he said, means that brakes, springs and subframes also have to get bigger and tougher, adding more pounds. “We can achieve 50 to 55 miles per gallon, but after that there are diminishing returns,” he said.
There are sure to be setbacks and challenges as technology shifts to the next generation of advances and breakthroughs that will usher in the second green revolution. However, the fact that so many companies (start-ups as well as established manufacturers in both the developed and developing world) are pushing forward on new technologies means that the pace of invention, experimentation, and refinement will be swift. It’s nice to see Toyota being honest about the challenges in bringing these cars to the market in large numbers. If Toyota can’t find the magic formula to make plug-ins reliable, affordable, and appealing, Tesla, BYD Motors or an as yet unheard of outfit very well might.
- Justin Manger