Toyota plugs into the French
According to the Financial Times, Toyota is set to announce a deal with EDF, i.e., Electricitie de France, a French electric utility, to develop recharging stations for plug-in electric vehicles. EDF has utilities in Germany, Italy, and Great Britain, as well as France. So, the development of recharging stations could encompass the four countries.
Toyota, says the Financial Times, already has a relationship to ELF through its battery manufacturer. Whether there is a further tie-in to this deal is not known, according to the magazine.
Lately, Toyota has been sending mixed and somewhat confusing signals about the progress of its plug-in electric vehicle program, and its commitment to the concept. It has delayed introduction of vehicles with lithium ion batteries, considered essential for a plug-in vehicle, and has openly said that it does not believe the batteries, at their current stage of development, are sufficiently safe for use in production vehicles. On the other hand, it has proceeded with a program in Japan testing plug-in vehicles on public roads in daily use, in conjunction with the Japanese government.
Toyota seems to be hedging its bets, but losing enthusiasm for the plug-in concept. General Motors is believed to have a 2010 target for introduction of a plug-in Chevrolet Volt and has publicly stated that it expects to sell 60,000 Volts in its first year, with a price of about $30,000. Meanwhile, Newsweek recently reported that Toyota plans to expand the Prius into a stand-alone product line of hybrid vehicles. At least for the near term, the next several years, Toyota seems to be content expanding upon the image and reputation of the Prius, without venturing into new technologies. Indeed, it sometimes seems as though they’re daring GM to be the first to market with a plug-in vehicle.
Apart from research issues centered on lithium ion batteries, the real issue may be price. Though much of the appeal of the current Prius centers on its politically correct image, it’s also a cheap car. Starting at a bit over $20,000, it goes out the dealer’s door for about $10,000 less than the average new car. One executive in Toyota’s United States operation has publicly questioned whether there is a market for a plug-in vehicle at a price premium to the Prius of $500) to $10,000.
Although it’s certainly possible that General Motors has a technological lead over Toyota in development of a plug-in vehicle, it is also possible that Toyota has decided against making the necessary investment to bring a plug-in to market within the next several years. It may even be banking on GM’s failure with the Volt, either because the technology is not sufficiently proven, or the price is too high, or both.
To succeed with a $30,000 Volt, it will be necessary for General Motors to find a market who want the car for its capabilities, not for its ability to make a political statement. The very sort of person who seems to be the core Prius buyer (at least, according to Newsweek) is the exact same person who has believed GM to be the devil incarnate ever since Ralph Nader wrote “Unsafe at Any Speed.” GM will have to sell the Volt as a car.
Toyota’s apparent reticence about the plug-in market may indicate that it doesn’t think it can do that.
Source: Autoblog Green