Battery vehicles hit snags

Japanese researchers see conventional power storage system as unrealistic solution

By Anthony Gould

A pure battery-powered electric vehicle is not a realistic solution to environmental demands, Akihiro Wada, Toyota Motor Corporation executive vice-president, said in Brussels last week.

In detailing new engine technology to the European press at Toyota’s Brussels engineering centre, Wada said the pure battery vehicle was twice the cost of present-day cars and faced almost insurmountable technological and economic hurdles.

The cost of the battery needed to be reduced to at least one tenth of its present level, he said, while the problem of long charging times and lost charge still needed to be overcome.

Toyota, which only recently announced proving trials in Jersey of its RAV4 electric vehicle (costing £50,00 each) intends to concentrate on researching hybrid technology.

Wada outlined details of its forthcoming hybrid power train, which it said doubled fuel efficiency and cuts CO2 emissions to half the level of normal 1.5 litre engines.

The system combines a petrol engine with an electric motor. Research engines have shown twice the fuel economy of conventional petrol engines.

Toyota has opted for a series set-up, in which the engine drives a generator to produce electricity for a motor to drive the wheels, combined with the best characteristics of parallel systems, where both the engine and motor drive the vehicle.

It is powered by a large nickel-metal hybrid battery, supplied by Matsushita – which is also used in the RAV4 vehicle.

The hybrid is expected to be tried out in Japan this year, but Wada said more development work was needed. It would not be exported to Europe before 2000.