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Interview with Hidetoshi Kusumi, Executive Engineer, Advanced Powertrains, EV, Toyota

13 March 2013

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The Ride & Drive event of AABC 2013 gave many attendees the opportunity to test-drive EVs not yet available on the market, or at least those only very recently commercially available. It was also a chance for to get insights from Hidetoshi Kusumi, responsible for the entire vehicle system certification of the Toyota RAV4 EV. When did Toyota start developing BEVs?

Toyota has a strong history in developing electric vehicles. Our first EV was in 2001, when we developed the first version of the RAV4 EV, and just after that we also developed a small EV commuter called the eCom. Then, we focused on PHEVs for about 7 years, and in 2010 we started again to develop EVs for commuting and the new version of the RAV4 EV. What chemistry is used in the RAV4 EV’s battery?

The RAV4 EV has a very conventional lithium-ion battery based on 18650-type cells, designed and assembled by Tesla. The pack is composed of roughly 4.000 cells. What thermal management is used on the RAV4 EV?

The RAV4 EV has a liquid-cooled battery. This is a first for Toyota. The thermal management systems provide consistent vehicle performance in a variety of climates. We keep the battery temperature below 50°C by monitoring the battery management ICU. Even if you expose the vehicle to very low temperatures, we are able to keep the battery above 0°C. Where is the car built, in Japan or in the US?

As previously mentioned, we are using some Tesla components for the RAV4 EV. Tesla assembles their powertrain components in the North of California, and ship these components to our vehicle assembly plant in Canada. You have been responsible for the entire vehicle system certification of the car, what did you want to achieve with this car?

My first and biggest issue to address was the acceptable range for the US market. That was actually the first discussion had with Tesla. Following this discussion we thought that a range of 100 miles in real world conditions was needed. At the time, 100 miles in real world driving conditions was challenging. It meant we needed to aim for 140-150 miles to get 100 miles under any condition.

The second issue I had to deal with was the perception of electric vehicles. I wanted to change how people see EVs, because most people think they are just green, ecological, and nothing more. There is a lack of interest because of that, so I wanted to make EVs fun to drive. How did you manage the integration of a Tesla powertrain into a Toyota vehicle. How was it to work with Tesla?

Working with Tesla was definitely an interesting experience. Tesla engineers are very motivated. Their technology development process is very different. Toyota tends to prioritise safety a lot, but sometimes we are perhaps too conservative, whilst Tesla is more aggressive in their approach.

Sometimes, they focus on making it work, no matter what. The combination of Toyota’s and Tesla’s ways of working required many discussions, but that was fun.

I actually asked Tesla to keep their style, and to do things the way they wanted, as we wanted to change our style with this vehicle, so that was really fun. Are you planning to collaborate more with Tesla for future vehicles?

We are currently discussing internally what will be important for the next vehicle. We wonder if it is sufficient to work with Tesla or if we should build everything in-house for example. There are benefits and disadvantages of course, so at the moment we are extensively discussing the different possibilities. Are you already working on a new BEV for Toyota?

EV development is always linked to the ZEV mandate plan provided by CARB (California Air Resources Board). The next stage of the legislation will be applicable for 2016-2019, so we are now looking for that timing for our next BEV.

In alternative powertrains Toyota has several solutions, between PHEV, FCEV and BEV, so we are discussing the ratios of development invested in each technology, but we will keep developing BEVs. This car is already for sale, how much does one cost today?

It is currently sold at $49,800 before taking into account the incentives, but if you take into account the incentives you can get in California, such as state incentives, federal incentives, etc. you can buy a RAV4 EV for $30,000-$35,000. This is very close to the cost of an ICE equivalent. How many will you produce?

We will produce 2,600 RAV4 EV until the end of 2015. Will the RAV4 EV eventually come to the EU & Asian markets in the future?

I hope. That will depend on the demand from European and Asian consumers of course. We need to investigate much more about what are the most appropriate vehicles for these markets (commuters, sedan, etc).


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