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Exclusive interview with Michael Lord, Toyota Technical Center

14 May 2014

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After more than 20 years of involvement in powertrain electrification, Toyota is preparing to launch its latest fuel cell electric vehicle in 2015. took the opportunity to talk to Michael Lord, Senior Principal Engineer at Toyota Technical Center, just before the first AABC Asia 2014, held in Kyoto from May 19-23, 2014. What have been the greatest developments in the EV market in the last 12months?

Michael Lord: The greatest development in 2013 has been the work done on fuel cell electric vehicles One of your colleagues told us at AABC 2013 that Toyota will most likely work again with Tesla after the RAV4 EV. Do you have any updates on this possible collaboration?

Michael Lord: We are still working with Tesla on the RAV4 EV project but do not yet have any new information on our collaboration. Toyota has a strong history with electrification, having developed HEV, PHEV, BEV and FCV. Do you think that one day there will be one technology to cover all needs, or do you think that a mix of options will be needed?

Michael Lord: We believe gasoline will still be here for a long time and that our mixed portfolio approach is the best. Toyota has been investing in hydrogen for many years already. How do you see the future for fuel cell vehicles? Would infrastructure be a bigger or smaller problem than in the case of PHEVs/BEVs?

Michael Lord : Toyota began development of fuel cell vehicles in 1992 and debuted its first fuel cell vehicle in 1996. The FCHV (Fuel Cell Hybrid Vehicle) first hit the road in the U.S. in 2002, and is now on its third generation, the FCHV-adv.

Toyota’s fuel cell sedan will come to market in 2015. At the 2014 Milken Institute Global Conference, Toyota’s vice president of strategic planning, Chris Hostetter, said “Toyota is deeply committed to the future of fuel cell vehicles, because it is a no-compromise vehicle that offers cost, convenience, reliability, performance and safety that will match – or even exceed – traditional powertrains”.

Another benefit is that a fully fuelled vehicle has enough juice to power a small house for a week in an emergency. Engineers are currently working to develop an external power supply device to connect the car to the house and help keep the lights on.

Regarding the infrastructure, a reliable hydrogen infrastructure is a prerequisite. The price of refuelling hydrogen cars is expected to be similar as for gasoline cars. Despite a strong growth in EV sales in 2013, Li-ion battery manufacturers struggle to make it a viable business and are looking for other applications. How do you explain this?

Michael Lord : We do not believe there is strong growth in the EV market. Subsidising the market is for now the only way to sell these vehicles as their limited range and long refuelling time is discouraging most potential customers. Lithium technology does not provide the performance or the cost factors to appeal to the mainstream. For Toyota, is wireless charging just a test or do you really believe that it will become standard in the future?

Michael Lord: We started some field-testing globally on wireless charging in early 2014. Toyota's charging system uses magnetic-resonance technology. How do you deal with batteries at their end of life?

Michael Lord: Toyota has millions of hybrids on the road around the world. From Prius to Highlander to Camry, they have one thing in common – batteries. In Japan, Toyota has given new life to those old hybrid battery packs as stationary power storage systems. In use since 2013, the units provide peak power to Toyota dealerships around the country.

Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama (TMMAL) is now studying this used battery power system to help power their operations and provide back-up power during an emergency. One of Toyota’s model sustainable North American plants, it is fitting for TMMAL to be the first U.S. facility to flip this switch. What does 2014 look like for Toyota's EV activities?

Michael Lord: We do not have news on pure EVs for 2014. We are focusing on the launch of our fuel cell electric sedan in 2015.

Michael Lord is a Senior Principal Engineer in Vehicle Regulation & Certification Engineering for Toyota Technical Center, the North American research arm of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America (TEMA). He will speak at and chair the AABTAM Session 1 of AABC Asia 2014, held from May 21-23 in Kyoto.


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