TodayApril 16, 2022

A sustainable future

Toyota Sustainable Mobility Seminar

Driving the Nation

2012 Toyota Prius plug-in

I recently sat among world-wide experts on the subject of global sustainable mobility fuels and resources. After days of hearing about the future of oil, gas, natural gas, hydrogen, and biofuels and their ability to sustain mobility worldwide for the next 40 years, we all came away with the conclusion that the future of transportation is a complicated equation. The other conclusion was that gasoline-powered vehicles will continue to dominate the landscape until a better infrastructure is created in the US and in other industrialized nations. Projections include1.2 billion vehicles running around the globe by 2030 and most of them will be running on gas/diesel unless crude oil becomes too expensive.

The unrest in the Middle-East was discussed often, as was crude oil supply and demand worldwide. The eventual buyer is not the only company affected. Every time one country that owns a specific type of crude oil changes it’s supply amount, the neighboring refineries depending on that crude are affected. Not knowing the future, it is safe to assume that dependence on these crude sources long-term is one variable the US cannot calculate nor step away from in the short-term.

Robert Topel “ Professor of Economics: University of Chicago Grad School of Business- pointed out that if the United States is going to reach its goal of reducing 80% of our GGHG by 2050, it will need to create an incentive for today’s public. One major problem we face is that the current generations have to decide our path for fuel development and pay for something we will never personally experience. This means footing the bill for our next generation and this takes vision. Today’s consumer is not always our best visionary.

Driving the Nation

2012 Toyota Prius plug-in

The debate continues among scientists as to which energy source will be most efficient and effective long-term but all agree that just one fuel (i.e. compressed natural gas, hydrogen, synthetic biofuels, etc) will not fulfill the worlds need for power. It will take a combination of these available elements and synthesized fuels to supply worldwide demands. Yet, infrastructures will also have to follow these fuel developments for any new vehicle power to succeed. This is way hydrogen-powered vehicles are ready for production but not viable in the general market place- yet.

Synthetic Biological research has come so far in the past year that a synthetic fuel might be possible in the future. Algae-based fuel is being produced today in the San Diego and Southern California areas. Howe’ver, ten to twenty years is a minimum estimate on commercial applications for synthetically engineered algae fuels. Again, economics will determine how fast we can get fuel out of humanly cultured algae, the natural process that produced crude oil millions of years ago.

Toyota is responding to these delays with new plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles. These are not the answer to long-range energy challenges. Howe’ver, Toyota believes their cars and SUVs are an interim answer for current transportation needs in the US. They expect an all-electric RAV4-EV to be in production by 2012, which I had the privilege of driving recently in San Diego. Although this was a prototype, the overall drive was very normal! This is a good thing.

Immediate/interim zero-emission vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 EV all-electric SUV still depend on current home electricity grids which are powered by hydro-electric, nuclear, natural gas, or coal plants nation-wide.
Electric car company Tesla has teamed up with Toyota and adapted their Tesla Roadster drivetrain to power the current RAV4 chassis. The projected 80-120 miles per full-charge makes this combination of range and five-passenger SUV functionality a real advantage over the previous smaller and less capable Toyota electrics. Compared to the Nissan Leaf, Tesla vehicles, and earlier EVs from Honda and GM (including Toyotas first RAV4-EV), this is 2 to 3 times the range. Part of this range is due to a larger battery pack and the rest to Tesla’s electrical management systems.

Driving the Nation

2012 Toyota RAV4 EV

My time in the RAV4-EV Prototype proved that performance and hill-climbing power is no problem for a well-developed electric drivetrain, even with 3 large men onboard. Initial tests have produced over 100 miles per charge and the Tesla Roadster Convertible further establishes these initial range estimates.
The Tesla push-button transmission is the only change to an already very comfortable Toyota RAV4 interior. The Toyota hybrid-style instrument multi-function display gives all the pertinent power-usage information. This small SUV felt very smooth and inspired confidence when merging into heavy traffic. With prices still under debate, Toyota is targeting the RAV4-EV for young families so expect something along the lines of the Nissan Leaf at around $30k.

Along with the 2012 Plug-in Prius due by the spring of next year, Toyota is adding to its arsenal of hybrid vehicles with cars and SUVs that can be charged up at home (or on the road) and driven distances most common to Southern Californians. Strong sales of the plug-in Chevrolet Volt indicate that people are willing to spend a little more money for a plug-in vehicle that gets up to 40 miles on electricity that was drained from the supply of the home. Again, this is not the long-term answer but a step in the right direction.

Lou Ann Hammond

Lou Ann Hammond is the CEO of Carlist and Driving the Nation. She is the co-host of Real Wheels Washington Post carchat every Friday morning and is the Automotive, energy correspondent for The John Batchelor Show and a Contributor to Automotive Electronics magazine headquartered in Korea. Hammond is a founding member of the Women's World Car of the Year #WWCOTY, and board member of the Women in Automotive.