The 2019 Tokyo Motor Show runs from October 24 to November 4, and home country manufacturer Toyota is poised to make a splash with EV debuts.
- Toyota will unveil two new battery-electric vehicles at the Tokyo Motor Show
- It also plans to debut a prototype at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics using breakthrough solid-state batteries
- That technology could boost range, lower costs and reduce fire risks, but it’s uncertain when it will be ready for production
Long reluctant to enter the emerging battery-electric vehicle market, Toyota is making a rapid U-turn and, among at least three all-electric models it plans to unveil over the next two years, will be one using next-generation solid-state batteries offering the potential to overcome many of the weaknesses of today’s lithium-ion technology.
The first two new battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) will debut this week at the Tokyo Motor Show, One wearing a Lexus badge, a second Toyota’s.
The Lexus battery-car is expected to pick up key cues from the 2015 LF-SA concept vehicle. (Photo: Toyota)
A third won’t debut until next summer during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – but Toyota’s chief technology officer confirms it will feature solid-state batteries that could power a fleet of BEVs the carmaker will roll out over the course of the coming decade.
With its arrow-like nose and gull-wing doors, the Lexus LF-30 debuting in Tokyo this week is clearly a concept vehicle. But the luxury brand says it “foreshadows” future production models – the timing for their introduction not yet revealed.
The Lexus LF-30 pushes into new territory with some of its technologies, including four independent motors mounted in the hatchback’s wheels, rather than on its axles. That approach not only could enhance performance but also assist in the introduction of autonomous driving capabilities.
As for the Toyota battery-car, it will be an even smaller micro-compact two-seater that would appear to take aim at Japan’s unique Kei car segment.
The first Toyota concept to use solid-state batteries likely will be a version of the e-Palette prototype. (Photo: Toyota)
The company says it is meant to “support Japan’s aging society and provide freedom of movement to people at all stages of life.” Since it’s primarily aimed at urban applications, it will only deliver about 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles, per charge, and top out at speeds of about 60 kmh, or 37 mph.
The third vehicle Toyota is confirming will go in a completely different direction. Though the carmaker is still working up final plans, it “probably will be the e-Palette,” Chief Technology Officer Shigeki Terashi said during a recent interview, the details of which have since been confirmed by Toyota.
The Toyota e-Palette concept was unveiled at the January 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Looking a lot like a toaster on four wheels, CEO Akio Toyoda described it at the time as a “multi-purpose moving space,” a battery-powered jitney that could be “reconfigured for different purposes within a single day.”
The new Toyota EV will be an ultra-compact 2-seater with limited range and a modest top speed. (Image: Toyota)
Whatever the final decision, CTO Terashi said, “We will introduce, but not yet sell, a vehicle with solid-state batteries for the 2020 Games.”
Toyota doesn’t hide its desire to bring solid-state technology to market ASAP. A pioneer in hybrid development, it has been slow to embrace pure battery-electric vehicles, in part due to questions about today’s lithium batteries — as well as skepticism about market acceptance.
“We already have the technology. We’re waiting for the right time,” deputy chief engineer Naohisa Hatta told British publication Autocar. “It has to make business sense. It has to make profit.”
But Toyota is running out of options and can’t wait much longer as it faces increasingly stringent global emissions and fuel economy regulations, said Sam Abuelsamid, a principle analyst with Navigant Research. “They need to have some zero-emissions vehicles in the marketplace, especially in Europe and China.”
Lithium batteries have improved markedly, but analysts like Abuelsamid say still longer range, shorter charging times and lower prices are necessary, That’s something solid-state batteries are expected to deliver. Another plus: replacing the slurry of metals and acids used in today’s batteries with polymers and ceramics will effectively eliminate the risk of fire.
As for timing, that’s a matter of intense debate. Many analysts remain skeptical solid-state will be ready before the end of the next decade. But Terashi suggested Toyota is gunning for mass production “as early as possible in the 2020s.”
With Toyota now developing at least 10 BEVs, at least some could come to market with solid-state power.
WHY THIS MATTERS
Long-reluctant Toyota is now making a major commitment to battery-electric vehicles and, if its rush to bring solid-state batteries to market succeeds it could get a leg up on its competition by making BEVs far more appealing to consumers.