Toyota Motor Corporation is still planting its feet firmly in the soil of hybrid technology, as demonstrated by its newly unveiled GR010 Hypercar hybrid. Nevertheless, last month the company unveiled a 100% electric vehicle, in the slightly less splashy form of a new ultra-compact two-seater dubbed the C+pod. Does the C+pod portend a broader pivot to all-electric for Toyota? Maybe not this year, but lessons learned from US regulators over hybrid emissions could motivate the company to accelerate its efforts in the area of all-electric mobility.
A Wake-up Call For Hybrid Electric Vehicle Makers
Toyota gets props for being among the first automakers to introduce affordable EV technology to the mass market through its popular hybrid Prius sedan. Hybrid technology has continued to prove a winner for Toyota over the years, sustaining the company far longer than a 2007 JD Power report on consumer trends would indicate. That may also have a lot to do with the growing crossover and SUV market, which Toyota has been courting with its RAV4 and Highlander hybrids.
On the other hand, the global auto industry is pivoting to 100% electric, and last week’s news about a $180 million penalty imposed on Toyota for emissions violations in the US should serve as a wake-up call for any automaker that is not running away from the gasmobile market as fast as possible.
The announcement of the Toyota penalty predated the inauguration of newly minted US President Joe Biden by just a few days, and it could be a harbinger of things to come.
The last time Biden was in the White House (he was Vice President during the Obama administration), then-EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy took Volkswagen to the woodshed over diesel emissions violations. The scandal motivated Volkswagen to ramp up its EV activity, and guess who’s back as the head of the newly formed White House Office of Domestic Climate Policy?
If you guessed Gina McCarthy, run right out and buy yourself a cigar. McCarthy did not let the climate grass grow under her feet after President Obama left office in 2017. She was tapped as President and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council last January, and she had this to say upon leaving the organization for the White House:
“In creating the position of National Climate Advisor, President-elect Biden and Vice President Harris have made sure we address the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves. This puts climate action, for the first time, front and center on the agenda for every agency in the federal government. I look forward to working with the new president and his team to restore U.S. climate leadership at home and abroad and to advance the equitable, job-creating climate solutions we need.”
The New Toyota GR0101 Hypercar
If that does not sound like a ringing endorsement of hybrid electric vehicle technology, it’s not. The VW scandal sounded the death knell for the “clean diesel” pitch, and a renewed focus on emissions enforcement could do a similar job on hybrid cars.
However, for now it looks like the siren call of the hybrid consumer will continue to support the hybrid market, which probably explains why the global automaking world rallied around the establishment of the new Hypercar category for endurance racing.
In the hands of Toyota and like minded automakers, the new Hypercar category is an opportunity to show off new whiz-bang hybrid technology.
That finally brings us around to the new GR010 Hypercar hybrid from Toyota Gazoo Racing.
For all the juicy specs check with Toyota Gazoo Racing, but for those of you on the go here’s the GR010 rundown from Toyota’s press office:
“It incorporates a powerful four-wheel-drive racing hybrid powertrain, with a 3.5-litre V6 twin turbo engine, providing 500kW to the rear wheels and combining with a 200kW motor generator unit, developed by AISIN AW and DENSO, on the front axle.
“Total output is capped at 500kW, meaning the GR010 HYBRID’s sophisticated electronics reduce engine power according to the amount of hybrid boost deployed.”
And, here’s the money quote from Team President Hisatake Murata, said that “The GR010 HYBRID is a preview of our road-going cars,” he said. “What we learn on the WEC racetracks will directly benefit our customers.”
In other words, don’t look for Toyota to abandon the hybrid market any time soon.
What About That New Toyota C+port Electric Vehicle?
On the other hand, Toyota has been slowly dipping a toe into the 100% electric vehicle waters, and it introduced the new C+port EV two-seater on December 25. It’s quite a contrast with the snap and sizzle of the GR010 hypercar. Put them side by side and the 100% electric vehicle looks downright silly.
Don’t be fooled, though. Silly or not, Toyota has been staking out some interesting ground in the electric vehicle field. Last fall, for example, our friends over SP Global noted that the company has been making some big moves in the EV battery supply chain, including the development of a long range fluoride-ion EV battery with Kyoto University.
Now think of the C+port as a demonstration platform for testing out a web of services related to electric vehicles, and it looks like a plan is coming together.
Toyota is initially launching the C+port for fleet owners, including government agencies and non-government organizations as well as corporations, and it already has more than 200 private sector and government partners engaged in pushing the envelope on electric vehicle services.
“One of those services is Toyota Green Charge, a joint project developed with Chubu Electric Power Miraiz Co., Inc. to offer a single point of contact for corporations seeking support when constructing optimal charging facilities or developing electricity plans for BEVs, such as CO2-free power,” explains Toyota. “The service will be jointly implemented in collaboration with Chubu Electric Power Miraiz, Kansai Electric Power Co., Inc., and TEPCO Energy Partner, Inc.”
That’s quite a lot of firepower lined up in support of carbon-free electric vehicle charging right there. Since Toyota’s home nation is nuclear-friendly Japan, there is probably a role for nuclear power to play in that thing about CO2-free power. It also suggests that Toyota is keeping an eye on the US, where some auto manufacturers (looking at you, GM) are prepping the market for 100% EVs by funneling more renewable energy into the grid.
Circling back around to the C+port, another fleet-friendly feature specific to electric vehicles is a standard external backup power source. Backup power is an especially critical issue in Japan, where climate impacts and other natural disasters have been wreaking havoc on the grid as the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear disaster continues to spin out.
“The C+pod includes an external power supply system of up to 1,500 W (100 VAC) as standard for use during power outages and natural disasters,” explains Toyota. “In addition to use through the accessory power outlet near the passenger’s feet, the optional vehicle power connector can be plugged into the standard charging inlet at the front of the vehicle for use as an external power supply socket, which can supply power for up to about 10 hours.”
If you want a C+port for yourself, you’ll have to wait. Toyota plans to roll out a model for individual use in 2022.
Meanwhile, we’ll keep an eye on that fluoride battery.
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Photo: GR010 Hypercar hybrid courtesy of Toyota Gazoo Racing.
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