By Chris Haak
Late last week, Toyota officials confirmed that the 2012 calendar year will bring a series of new environmentally-friendly vehicles. Some will be hybrids, some will be pure EVs, but all will be electrified in one way or another.
First up will be a production version of last year’s FT-EV concept. This car is an EV version of the forthcoming Scion iQ, which of course likely means that the production car will likely wear a Scion badge in the US. The iQ is sold as a Toyota in Europe and Asia, since Scion does not exist in those markets.
Two thousand twelve will also bring the Prius plug-in hybrid, which is already in the hands of some customers for real-world testing. The PHEV Prius will ditch the traditional nickel metal hydride batteries for higher-capacity lithium-ion cells, which means more power and better range, plus the ability to charge the car via a wall outlet, similar to what the Chevrolet Volt will offer. The PHEV Prius test fleet has the ability to stream real-time fuel efficiency and usage data back to the engineers in Toyota City, Japan to monitor the cars and how well they perform. Some of this data will be viewable by the public at Toyota’s ESQ website (Environment, Safety Quality).
Third, the long-discussed Prius sub-brand of vehicles is likely to take a bow in 2012. The notion here is for the Prius to spawn more than just a five-door hatch, but also other body styles that stay reasonably true to the fundamentals of the Prius we all know. Toyota has not confirmed what any of the other body styles might be, but expect some sort of people-mover and perhaps a two-door variant. A Prius people mover reminds one of the Chevrolet Volt MPV5 concept shown by GM at the Beijing auto show this past April.
Separately, Tesla confirmed late last week that it has two prototype EVs under construction for Toyota’s evaluation. The vehicles will have Toyota bodies, but Tesla’s electric powertrains. Word on the street was that Toyota was interested in comparing the performance of Tesla’s approach of using thousands of what amount to laptop batteries to its internally-devloped large-format lithium ion cells that may be less complex to manufacturer. The Tesla Roadster currently has 6,831 cells wired together to form its battery pack. The test mules are likely to be delivered to Toyota by the end of the month.
Clearly, Toyota is anxious to put its safety and quality problems of the past twelve months behind it, and is trying hard to regain the environmental leadership (whether real or perceived) that it had enjoyed for years. Introducing EVs and high-mileage vehicles will surely help Toyota move in that direction, but one must wonder if the damage done to Toyota’s reputation is irreversible. At least one person thinks that’s the case.