Toyota, Mazda, & Honda To Join The Electric Car Party

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Japanese automakers have been behind the curve when it comes to manufacturing electric cars since the EV revolution began nearly a decade ago. At first, under heavy prodding from the Japanese government, they focused on hydrogen fuel cell technology instead of batteries. But while EVs zoomed ahead, thanks in large part to pressure from Tesla, fuel cell cars languished in the slow lane.

Toyota Solid State Battery News

Toyota e-Palette autonomous pod
Image credit: Toyota

Toyota said this week it will use the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo to showcase its solid state battery technology. Shigeki Terashi, Toyota’s chief technology officer, tells Autocar, “We will produce a car with solid state batteries and unveil it to you in 2020, but mass production with solid state batteries will be a little later.” Before you call your broker to load up on Toyota stock, consider this.

The vehicle Toyota puts on display in Tokyo next summer will be a one-off prototype based loosely on the e-Palette autonomous concept it revealed last year. The company will have a least a dozen other semi-autonomous shuttles in operation at the games which use good old fashioned lithium-ion batteries to transport visitors.

The kicker is, Terashi says production of solid state batteries is not expected to begin until 2025. BMW is partnering with Toyota on solid state battery research and it says 2030 is a more likely target date. Both companies took a calculated gamble a few years ago, betting they could wait to jump into the deep end of the electric car pool until solid state batteries were commercially available. They were wrong. If they persist in dragging their feet, they risk being irrelevant — if not out of business entirely — by the time 2030 rolls around.

Mazda Takes The Wraps Off Its MX-30 Electric SUV

Mazda MX-30 electric SUV
Image credit: Mazda

Tiny Mazda has been hoping against hope it could continue to stay relevant by making more efficient gasoline and diesel engines. Now at long last, it is ready to introduce its first all electric vehicle, an SUV it calls the MX-30. It will be on the Mazda display stand at the Tokyo auto show when it opens next week.

The MX 30 features two small rear doors that are hinged at the back. Those doors make it super easy to slide in and out of the back seat, which is good. The last car from Mazda that had this feature was the RX 8 sedan. Several pickup truck manufacturers offered similar arrangements for a while, until full size rear doors became the new standard.

What is not so good is the performance of the car those doors are attached to. According to The Verge, the MX-30 will come with a 141 horsepower electric motor, a 35.5 kWh battery, and a rather shortish range of 130 miles | 209 km. It will be sold first in Japan in the second half of 2020 before going on sale in Europe in the first part of 2021. Sales in the US are contemplated but no date has been set for that to happen. Mazda says it chose a smaller battery than its competitors to reduce carbon emissions. Hmmm…

Autocar says prices in the UK are expected to be under £30,000, but whether that is before or after incentives is unclear. That sum translates to about $38,500 at current exchange rates. Given that the Tesla Model Y is expected to be available at roughly the same time as the MX-30 arrives, it seems Mazda may encounter some headwinds in the market when the car appears in dealer showrooms. It will have a 7-inch touchscreen, however, so there is that.

Honda Embraces Hybrids

e-Honda electric car
Image credit: Honda

Tougher emissions in the European Union are forcing car makers to scramble as the effective date of the new standards approaches. Honda has been one of the Japanese companies lagging behind, although its new e-Honda city car is a step in the right direction.

In a press release this week, Tom Gardner, senior vice president of Honda Motor Europe, said “The pace of change in regulation, the market, and consumer behavior in Europe means that the shift towards electrification is happening faster here than anywhere else in the world.” That means that Honda’s goal of electrifying its entire new car lineup has been moved up three years from 2025 to 2022.

Electrification means different things to different people. To some of us, it connotes battery electric cars but many manufacturers use it to mean hybrids — you know, like the 2003 Toyota Prius. Toyota has the audacity to call them “self charging electric cars,” further confusing many customers. Oh, well. Half a loaf is better than none. The Honda Jazz, known at the Fit in North America, now features a hybrid power train. The CR-V has one as well and the Civic and HR-V are next in line to receive one, according to Autocar.

There is one interesting side note to this announcement. Honda has partnered with Vattenfall to provide electricity from renewable sources to Honda electric car customers. The contract will allow EVs to be charged at the most cost effective time of day and will be introduced first in the UK and then Germany next year. Honda has also revealed a new bi-directional charger that can simultaneously charge an electric car and deliver power back to the grid. If Honda continues to push its electric and hybrid car agenda, it may just survive where less nimble companies succumb to market forces and disappear in coming years.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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