EVs are just a way to bridge a gap, it seems.
It appears that Lexus, and its bigger parent company Toyota, are knowingly and deliberately flying in the face of convention, as it is confident that the recent wave of electrification that’s taking over the automotive industry is a temporary phase that’s merely serving to pave the way to a rather different eventuality. Lexus communications boss Paul Williamsen has made it very clear that the companies reckon battery-electric EVs are just a bridge, and that the Japanese automotive conglomerate has a 10-year head-start on its competitors on the decidedly-hydrogen future.
“Both hybrids and EVs are merely bridging technologies on the way to the solution, which is hydrogen. The problem with EVs is a simple matter of chemistry — we won’t be able to get the charging times down. I’ve worked with batteries enough to know that fast-charging a battery is about the second worst thing you can do to it. There are two ways to abuse a battery: Overheat it, or fast-charge it.” — Paul Williamsen, Manager for International Strategic Communications, Lexus
Williamsen described himself to our friends at CarAdvice as a “tech guy,” with years of experience in the industry and with Lexus itself. He reckons that the future of motoring lies in hydrogen due to the convenience of it, and the focus on battery longevity. With battery technology where it is now, it’s no secret that while companies are making huge advances in terms of quick-charging to increase the convenience-factor with battery-electric propulsion, there’s very little being said about how it affects the batteries. Williamsen then zeroed-in on one of fast-charging’s biggest supporters: Tesla.
“With the Tesla Superchargers, one supercharge takes 20 charge cycles off the end of that battery’s life. Two supercharges takes 40 charge cycles. They don’t publicise it. That’s simple chemistry: You can’t force ions through the battery that fast without causing damage. With hydrogen, we’ve got something that can fill a Toyota Mirai, or a Highlander, or a Honda or a Hyundai with a 200-400 mile range in three minutes. You’ll buy that, your wife will buy that, and she’s going to pay about US$4 a gallon to fill it up too, which is pretty great.” — Paul Williamsen, Manager for International Strategic Communications, Lexus
It’s worth noting that Williamsen’s comments were made with relativity and context in mind, given that hydrogen is measured in kilograms, and US$4/gallon is the rough market price for unleaded petrol in the US. Real-world prices, based on data collected from Toyota Mirai’s in North America and Europe, posit that filling up a Mirai with 5kg of hydrogen costs about $60 at today’s prices.
Maximising the ability and usability of hydrogen will be hydrogen-electric hybrid powertrains, and Toyota has a wealth of experience in electric hybrid technology. Williamsen reckons that using hydrogen efficiently can be approached from three directions, but Toyota & Lexus will hedge their bets on hybrid efficiency.
“You can make a motor vehicle that uses hydrogen as an energy source in three completely unrelated ways. The only one that makes sense is a hydrogen/EV hybrid. That’s what we’re doing, and we’re using our experience in hybrid to do that. If you don’t make your hydrogen car a hybrid, you’re giving up all the efficiency advantages of regeneration. So you’re being wasteful. Our approach is to have the best and most efficient way of using hydrogen, which has to be a hybrid. Not every automaker thinks that way. They can have a zero-emission vehicle by having a hydrogen fuel cell that directly drives the car, or a hydrogen powered ICE, but they’re using twice as much hydrogen as we are. We believe a hydrogen fuel cell EV hybrid is the only way to go, so that’s all we build. And the Mirai is our sixth generation of production-ready hydrogen technology. The previous five were production ready, but there wasn’t enough demand to put them into production. But now you can buy them.” Paul Williamsen, Manager for International Strategic Communications, Lexus
While the complexity around hydrogen production continue to befuddle and the sheer amount of energy required to produce it makes heads spin, it’s clear that Toyota reckons that the costs and complexities will reduce in time, and in the meantime, they’ve got those pesky “bridging” EVs to fill the gap. With the Japanese giant sponsoring the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, they are determined that the games will be zero-emissions, with the technology that’ll be on display during the Games expected to aid Lexus’ electric dreams along by a degree too.
Last week, we published an article around comments made by Lexus president Yoshihiro Sawa that spoke about how it may seem that Lexus is late to the EV party, but promises to make a grand entrance on the back of solid-state battery technology.