And Now, It’s Toyota’s Turn

An anonymous commenter on a previous blogpost asks,

“GM has alway said that the battery might not be ready…. GM never lied about it but like always lots of people like to knock GM. Why not pick on Toyota for a while.”

I’ve got no problem picking on Toyota, too. Toyota continues to use the Prius to cover a multitude of sins. They are selling larger, less fuel-efficient vehicles than ever; they slap a hybrid drive into a $100,000 Lexus, achieve minimal fuel savings, and earn more green kudos all while continuing to spread disinformation about the value of true electrification by advertising their hybrids as half electric cars “you never have to plug in.” Of course the truth is you can’t.

But unlike GM, Toyota hasn’t promised a plug in car. They haven’t had to. (Although they built a damn good one when they were forced to. Read all about it here.) While I have no doubt Toyota will release a plug-in car as soon as someone else does, until then they will join the “batteries aren’t ready” chorus.

It truly is, not surprisingly, all about the bottom line. Every automaker wants to continue selling only internal combustion engine cars (hybrids included) because they believe that is the best route toward the greatest profitability in the near term. Needless to say this hasn’t proven true in GM’s case. They couldn’t have been in worse shape had they continued even very limited production, and sale, of the EV1. It would have been their Prius, only better.

— Marc G. Plugs and Cars Blog

3 Responses to And Now, It’s Toyota’s Turn

  1. Ronald says:

    Toyota at least is trying to put the hybrids in all vehicle lines which is a lot of new engineering and changes. I would think they would have a great incentive for plug-ins in Japan and other countries with high fuel taxes.
    A question I have is which is more beneficial per unit of battery, to have all vehicles hybrid or a certain percentage to be plug-ins? Just a curiosity question.
    If enough people aren’t asking for these plug-ins or they don’t think they can sell enough to pay for all the engineering and infrastructure for the new models and they don’t sell, they could be stuck with them. They probably are figuring they would be robbing some hybrid sales to plug-ins.

  2. Paul K says:

    There is tremendous demand for plug in cars. There aren’t any. Well there are some. There is also a demand for hybrids. I don’t know what the total is, but wouldn’t be surprised if it were more than the supply. Earl Killian, who blogs here, and Ed Begley Jr. are the best I’ve heard about no fossil automotive. You want to do good for the planet, emulate Begley. GM and Ford are building lots of hybrids in all categories. Think of the benefit if all the SUVs went hybrid. The GM hybrid gets better mileage than the Camray.

    A lot has been said about the role of government. Many would like it to just take care of the whole thing. Construct some grand scheme and tell us what to do. Let the politicians and lobbyists and special interests venal and sublime wrangle over the pie. My oh my. Meanwhile nothing gets done. Luckily, in America, the power and the responsibility reside in the people. It is the truth that the replacement of fossil fuel will be accomplished only as the result of countless individual acts.

    What can government do? There is one action that will do more to reduce the use of fossil fuel than any other. Government at all levels must maximize their purchase of American made hybrid vehicles. How many vehicles are we talking about here? Lots and lots. If anybody here knows the actual number, please relate as I think this is a proposal all should support. Everyone seem to agree the solution must be started right away. This is a lot quicker than waiting for the next climate conference. The longest journey, as they say, begins with a single step. The people in free association are the solution.

  3. John Mashey says:

    it’s been years since I was helping sell computers to car companies, and none of this is intended to particularly defend car companies. From my experience, which sometimes included dealing with Senior VP-level folks, the companies vary wildly, although the engineers at most companies were usually chafing at the bit to build better things. At one point, computers I helped design were used in almost all of the substanial car companies for running crash codes.

    But, I would make a few comments, and maybe Joe or Marc G can comment. Some of the car issues are very, very similar to R&D+deployment issues found in computer systems companies, except the life-cycles of the latter are faster.

    I’ve done a lot of product & transition planning, but anyone who hasn’t can get confused about it, or ascribe to malice that which is either incompetence, or actually legitimate economic planning.

    Here are a few issues:

    1) “Osborne Effect” – preannounce by 2-3 years a specific product that you cannot deliver now, but that is clearly and fundamentally better.

    Result: sensible customers defer purchases.
    Ex: we *don’t* own Priuses because we guess that Toyota will start shipping PHEV/FF’s by 2010. If we thought it was 2015, we’d buy Priuses now.

    On th other hand, one has to keep people feeling like a company has a reasonable roadmap going forward. This was really important in the computer business, given taht customers were making long-term investments with strong lock-in effects. it’s less important for individual car buyers.

    2) New features that take real engineering –> high-end products first, usually

    Although not always true, aggressive, expensive-first-cost features usually appear first at the high ends of product lines, and then work their way down. This has long been true of both cars and computers. It used to be true of consumer electronics, although sometimes a new feature may only be relevant if it appears in a new form factor that only makes sense in a low-to-moderate cost product, like an iPod.

    Among other things, when employing aggressive new technology, which just might not work out in practice as well as thought, a manufacturer always prefers to put it in to high-margin, lower-volume products first, because if they have to do recalls, it costs them less. Needless to say, companies that wish to retain reputations for quality, and that ship large volumes, and have warranties MUST be careful in what they do. What works on a small scale doesn’t always instanaly scale up.

    Obviously, things like Priuses are slightly odd, in that they are moderate-cost vehicles, but then, this choice probably makes sense, given that some people buying expensive larger vehicles may not find hybrid gas mileage a compelling benefit, although certainly, in this town, a lot of BMWs and Mercedes have been traded in for Priuses.

    At SGI, new graphics features normally started in $100,000+ machines, and worked their way down a product class each generation. Multimedia features started at the bottom, on desktops, and worked their way up, because people wanted them there, and didn’t care so much about them in the high end, but after a while, it was cheaper just to put the same features everywhere.

    Likewise, we had products I’d let anyone buy, but we also had really aggressive customers who needed the very latest products and wanted them even if they were only half-baked, and would tinker with them besides, and knew what they were getting into. Most cars are in the first category.

    3) Constrained supply -> high-end

    If you are supply-constrained for some component, you usually reserve it for more expensive products. This *might* apply to batteries. It certainly applied to microprocessors. Our highest clocrkate chips gernally went first into our higher-margin, larger systems.

    Maybe knowledgable folks can shed light on the real ins and outs of the battery issues. Is the following a reasonable discussion or not?

    Anyway, the goal of this is not to defend auto companies, but to help fine-tune criticism and avoid wasting time wishing for business and technology behaviors that simply don’t make sense.