Hyperbole alert: The following news will evoke all the hackneyed words and phrases that so often are used to talk about new battery technology. Prepare for a flurry of “game changer,” “holy grail,” and “This changes everything” statements. Yet if the news today from Toyota is true — emphasis on if — the path of the EV revolution is about to be altered forever. The fact that it comes from Toyota, a company we have been lambasting for years because of its refusal to take electric cars seriously, makes this news all the more surprising.
Last month, Toyota announced it has a new electric car strategy. Around the CleanTechnica latte bar, the general consensus is that it’s about damn time.
“The next-generation battery EVs will adopt new batteries, through which we are determined to become a world leader in battery EV energy consumption. With the resources we earn, we will improve our product appeal to exceed customer expectations and secure earnings. We will roll out next-generation BEVs globally and as a full lineup to be launched in 2026. By 2030, 1.7 million units out of 3.5 million overall will be provided by BEV Factory. Please look forward to a carmaker-produced battery EV that inspires the hearts of all customers.”
Now just a few weeks later, Toyota is telling the world it has made a technological breakthrough that will allow it to cut the weight, size, and cost of batteries in half. Think for a minute. If true, what might the implications be for the EV revolution? And no, you are not allowed to include the words “game changer” in your response.
Toyota Solid-State Battery Announcement
On July 3, the company said it had simplified the production of the material used to make solid-state batteries and hailed the discovery as a significant leap forward that could dramatically cut charging times and increase driving range. “For both our liquid and our solid-state batteries, we are aiming to drastically change the situation where current batteries are too big, heavy and expensive. In terms of potential, we will aim to halve all of these factors.”said Keiji Kaita, president of the Toyota research and development center for carbon neutrality.
He added that his company has developed ways to make batteries more durable, and believed it could now make a solid-state battery with a range of 1,200 km (745 miles) that could charge in 10 minutes or less and would be simpler to manufacture than a conventional lithium-ion battery.
CleanTechnica readers, being the well-informed people they are, are aware that the leap from the laboratory to commercial production is often long and difficult. If Toyota has made progress in that area, that is indeed something to be celebrated. But once again, we have to emphasize, that is a big “if.”
Specifics Are Lacking
Nevertheless, our readers will want to know some specifics, things like energy density, charge and discharge rates, the number of charging cycles possible, how the batteries perform in cold temperatures, what they are made of — things like that. They have been trained over many years to be skeptical of announcements such as this one. After all, companies like QuantumScape have been making similar promises for almost a decade, and we are all still waiting for that company to get its batteries into production.
David Bailey, a professor of business economics at the University of Birmingham, told The Guardian that if Toyota’s claims are accurate, it could be a landmark moment for the future of electric cars. “Often there are breakthroughs at the prototype stage but then scaling it up is difficult. If it is a genuine breakthrough it could be a game changer — very much the holy grail of battery vehicles.” Congratulations to Bailey for using two of the three most trite phrases about new technology in one sentence.
Sharp-eyed readers will notice that even with this solid-state battery news, Toyota still has modest goals for its battery-electric cars. It plans to manufacture 3 million of them a year by 2030 — half with solid-state batteries. Tesla just announced it produced nearly a half million cars last quarter alone. BYD is also in it to win it and is on pace to make up to 3 million BEV and EV vehicles in 2023.
Are CATL, BYD, Gotion, Northvolt, LG Energy, and other major battery manufacturers quaking in their boots about the Toyota announcement? Probably not. While all companies are secretive about their production processes, word does get around and it is unlikely those companies don’t have solid-state battery plans of their own that are pretty far along.
Wherefore Art Thou, Hydrogen?
Despite this most recent announcement, Toyota is still committing substantial resources to developing hydrogen fuel cell technology. The company said last month it will establish a Hydrogen Factory to develop fuel cell technology further, particularly for commercial customers. Mercedes announced recently that it is building electric buses that have onboard fuel cell range extenders supplied by Toyota. The company says the focus of its hydrogen efforts will be markets in Japan, China, and Europe.
“We will work toward full scale commercialization as we move forward with these initiatives. The next generation system will achieve a 37% cost reduction through technological progress, volume efficiency, and localization. Furthermore, in collaboration with partners, if we receive an offer for 200,000 units in 2030, we will be able to reduce the cost by 50% and generate a solid profit while meeting the expectations of our many customers and governments,” Toyota says.
As it turns out, the latest news from Toyota is a lot of huffing and puffing without much substance to it. The company is showing signs of changing course, albeit slowly. It says it will adopt the high pressure casting techniques pioneered by Tesla to make the major structural components of its electric cars in the future.
It is hard for established manufacturers to stop doing what they have always done and start doing something else. There is a belief at the highest levels of successful corporations that things will always stay the same and the money will just keep on rolling in. All they need to do is keep doing what they have always done and everything will be fine. And so it takes a shock to make them reassess their position and pivot to a new direction.
Until Toyota begins to share some details about its new solid-state battery technology, its announcements must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. Will it change course and become a leader of the EV revolution? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.
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