GM and Toyota’s Race to Build Electric Cars Businessweek

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GM and Toyota’s Race to Build Cars

Toyota is being with the technology, but GM is full-speed-ahead for a launch of its Volt. To the victor go the spoils

To hear Toyota (TM) managers tell it, hybrids, electric cars, and the ion batteries that will them work aren’t ready for showrooms, and they’re about following some to market in 2010. But rival Motors (GM) says the will have its ballyhooed Volt, and its lithium ion batteries, for sale as promised (, in 2010.

If GM pulls it off, the automaker will stage a coup. The Volt would better fuel economy Toyota’s Prius (, and prove that American can finally trump Japanese prowess. If GM fails, Toyota is again, and the Japanese juggernaut the green mantle and important rights as the industry’s technology

Their two differing views are than just posturing for the press. The two companies are shaping strategies for developing and selling advanced hybrids and electric Depending on who is right, an era of highly and emission-free cars might be around the corner or will to wait until deeper next decade.

This is a new world, says one senior GM working on the Volt. There’s no we’re taking some

The MPG Math

Assuming the technology the Volt and plug-in hybrids be a big step forward from the Prius. The Volt will go 40 on electric drive before a four-cylinder engine kicks in to the battery. So an owner who only 40 miles a day may rarely use gasoline. One who say, 50 miles a day would use a quarter of a gallon of gas daily going home to recharge the lithium ion battery by plugging it in.

Do the That’s 200 mpg for that trip.

hybrids aren’t quite efficient, but the concept is similar. have more battery and can run on electric drive longer today’s Prius, whose motor kicks in once the car 15 or 20 mph. Toyota’s plug-in demonstration car goes 10 miles on electric drive right

But Toyota says it’s not to get the car to showrooms too quickly. At a media in Portland, Ore. on Sept. 23, executives said that hybrids, extended-range electric like the Volt, and electric like the one that Nissan plans to sell in 2010 have many challenges to

The tallest hurdle is the lithium ion Toyota will sell a hybrid version of its popular in 2010, but only in batches of to corporate fleets.

Toyota to use those corporate fleet as guinea pigs before showrooms with the cars. Why so Toyota says it doesn’t enough data on cost, reaction to plug-in hybrids, or of the needed lithium ion batteries to go to showrooms yet.

There’s no to all of this because we’re where batteries will be, consumers will be, and where prices will be in three says Bill Reinert, manager for advanced technologies at Motor Sales USA. why we’re doing test in 2010.

Production Problems

may have a point. Lithium ion work in test cars at GM and Silicon Valley’s Tesla has sold about 30 electric that use lithium ion batteries.

But producing them and selling the at retail is another issue. lithium ion batteries is not a big deal if you want to make a few cars, James N. Hall, principal of Analytics, a Detroit consulting But mass producing large is a problem.

No one has done it before.

part of Toyota’s issue the technology. Until mass is in place, getting the cost will be problematic, Hall The batteries and their power-management are very expensive, Reinert If gasoline prices fall today’s levels, consumers may not to pay the premium.

Can you get the cost of plug-ins down? Reinert. We don’t know about the plug-in customer.

also thinks more testing is necessary. Plug-in drivers will run the lithium ion down to low energy levels plugging them in for a recharge. batteries run down to low levels and it back up, they won’t as long, Reinert says.

has other queries about hybrids and electric cars, of which will be offered by GM, Nissan, Mitsubishi (MMTOF), and in the next couple of years. In all it is assumed that owners plug them in at night local power utilities electricity to spare. But Reinert that plenty of owners want to plug in during the In some areas, that be a problem.

But in locales with electric power systems or out capacity, it could be an issue, he

Powering Up the Volt

Whatever concerns are, GM is forging Its engineers have been long hours for three trying to get the Chevrolet Volt for consumers by late 2010. At the 100th anniversary event in earlier this month, Robert A. Lutz said GM have 50 Chevrolet Cruze 10/3/08) compact cars on the Volt’s electric drive by the end of this year.

Next year, the company amp up its on-road testing with an 100 Chevy Volt demonstration In 2010, Lutz said, GM have hundreds of Volts for He plans to sell 10,000 of in 2011.

GM insists that the car be reliable and durable. By the time the is selling the Volt to consumers, GM have had almost two years of the electric-drive system and demo on the road. Lutz says almost scary how well the car is so far.

Toyota Crown Electric Cars

When GM unveiled the on Sept. 16, the company said it was negotiating with electric to offer consumers incentives to their cars during hours. That should the load on the power grid, Tony Posawatz, vehicle director for the Volt.


GM executives also think has been lukewarm on lithium ion for other reasons. Almost GM said it was rushing development of the nearly two years ago, its rival has issued cautious about how quickly the batteries be ready. GM thinks the Japanese are in developing the lithium ion batteries a chemistry that works in cars.

Some have doubted the because lithium ion batteries on fire in laptop computers. If happened in a car, it would be a But Lutz says GM is using a chemistry that doesn’t temperature issues. The Japanese industry, which has been lithium ion for years, concentrated on ion chemistry for these, he said, up his BlackBerry.

They can have thermal issues. The chemistry we in the U.S. does not.

Toyota has invested in a joint with Panasonic to assemble metal hybrid batteries those used in today’s With so much capital to nickel metal hydride Toyota wants to get the most out of it, GM have argued.


Reinert said he thinks efficiency in convention vehicles and will still be the solution into the next decade. hybrids will play a too, but Toyota just to test the batteries and spend educating consumers about Some drivers will get over 100 mpg if they drive trips before plugging the car in. will drive longer use more gasoline and get significantly he said.

You have to have expectations about what will give you, he

Make no mistake. Toyota is plenty of battery research. notes that the company has a building in Toyota City, where the company does but electric-drive and battery research. engineers are racing to get the cars

I’m not saying they work. There are challenges, says. We’re spending on plug-in hybrids.

Maybe with its seemingly bullet-proof and billions in the bank, can afford to be cautious. But GM, whose very is in question as the company burns in cash this year, a big win to ignite sales. Says One of the reasons some people consider GM is they don’t us a leader in energy-saving technology.

here’s the General’s big chance to

Click here to see a round-up of cars that are either available or will be coming to the soon.

Toyota Crown Electric Cars
Toyota Crown Electric Cars
Toyota Crown Electric Cars
Toyota Crown Electric Cars
Toyota Crown Electric Cars
Toyota Crown Electric Cars

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