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Toyota pulls plug on electric vehicle launch

Toyota corporation has now announced that electric vehicles (EVs) don’t make business or financial sense at this point.

Toyota Vice Chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada, also head of Toyota R&D, announced in Japan that the company was ending plans for a volume launch of its second all-electric car, the eQ. Uchiyamada said that Toyota hopes for only 2,600 sales worldwide of its other EV, a RAV4 version, over the next three years.

“The current capabilities of electric vehicles do not meet society’s needs, whether it may be the distance the cars can run, or the costs, or how it takes a long time to charge,” said Uchiyamada, who spearheaded Toyota’s development of the Prius hybrid in the 1990s.”

Toyota also has just begun a new advertising campaign for its Prius family of hybrids in the United States, showing them traversing a pristine landscape and emphasizing that there’s a right Prius for everyone. And as Forbes Magazine noted, “By implication, a right EV for just about no one.”

A major argument for the EV is the reduction of emissions, especially the green house gas carbon dioxide(CO2). It’s worth comparing the emissions from the three major automobile types: standard internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEs), hybrids like the Prius and Ford Fusion, and the zero emission all electrics (EVs).

We’ll assume 12,000 miles/year with a mix of winter/summer city and highway driving. Today’s average ICE car and light truck will consume about 550-600 gasoline gallons/year, and emit 11,000 pounds (5.5 tons) of CO2, or 9/10th pound of CO2 per mile.

Hybrids are averaging a little more twice the mpg of ICEs, so their emissions average 5,000 pounds/year, or 4/10ths pound of CO2 per mile.

The EVs don’t emit while running, but they transfer the emissions to the power plants that provide the electrons which charged their batteries. If the electron source is from non-emitting sources like nuclear, wind, hydro, and solar, the EVs can be considered near zero emission. But those clean sources currently provide about 30 percent of U.S. electric power demand.

Department of Energy figures tell us that the overall mix of the U.S. grid emits 1.4 pounds of CO2 per kilowatt hour (kwh) delivered. Under all conditions with radio and AC, EVs get about 3-3.5 miles per kwh.

This equates to 4/10ths pound of CO2 per mile. So driving an EV results in similar CO2 emissions as driving a hybrid and a saving of about half the emissions from driving the conventional ICE.

Government supported research has been important in supporting the growth of many of our major industries, including computers, aircraft, the Internet, nuclear power, nanotechnology, renewable energy, pharmaceuticals, etc. In my opinion, the problem occurs with premature large scale implementation such as with Solyndra solar, Range Fuels cellulose biofuels, $465 million for the Tesla Model S EV, billion dollar solar and wind farms, and $2 billion in stimulus funding for electric cars.

Public policy shines best in support of new technology and basic energy research, but its glow dims when it tries to force large scale implementation of unproven processes with uncertain markets.

Rolf Westgard is a professional member of the Geological Society of America and the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He teaches classes on energy subjects for the University of Minnesota Lifelong Learning program.