The automotive marketplace is preparing for a showdown between electric-vehicle technologies that could be characterized as "plug-ins vs. batteries."
Or, to put it more bluntly, Chevrolet Volt vs. Nissan Leaf.
Without mentioning either competitor by name, Toyota Motor Corp.'s top research executive last week put his chips on plug-ins as "the most realistic system" to bring electric drive into the mainstream.
Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota's executive vice president in charge of r&d, made that comment to engineering students at the University of Michigan.
Range limitations make Toyota doubt the mass-market potential of battery-powered EVs, Uchiyamada said. But he was surprisingly bullish on fuel-cell-powered electric vehicles.
Toyota will launch a Prius plug-in in 2012 and plans to add six hybrids globally, the company said last week. It also has unspecified plans to release EVs. Uchiyamada said EVs will be relegated to the short-range "city car" niche because of a real-world range of 60 to 100 miles.
"That makes it difficult for electric cars to replace general purpose cars at the moment," Uchiyamada said.
On the other hand, he told the students that Toyota is working to cut the cost of its fuel cell system in half and plans to launch a fuel cell vehicle in Southern California in 2015.
Speaking of his staff, Uchiyamada said, "Today I am strongly pushing them to develop fuel cell vehicles."
Toyota's Prius hybrid drivetrain system can be adapted to EVs, plug-ins and fuel cells, Uchiyamada added: "Where the hybrid is the core, it's relatively easy to adapt."